Put positive energy into the world, befriend people that inspire you, and remember that life is too short to read the same book twice. Impressive people have offered all sorts of good advice this week (I even learned how to fold a fitted sheet), but the happiest piece of wisdom came from my friend, Dipti.
Dipti and I have been trying to finagle our way into an aerial yoga class for the past week or so (did you realize these places book 3 weeks out??), and the process of securing a Groupon and scheduling a date had has us messaging back and forth for a couple days. In the middle of our planning, Dipti asked if we could organize a random act of happiness for the immediate future. I answered yes, of course, and asked what she had in mind.
Flash forward a couple days and we’re running amok on Bryant Street with sprinkled-cones for construction workers. We exchanged sweet treats for smiles and ended up having an afternoon that promises to become a ‘remember when’ story.
The great acts of love are done by those who are habitually performing acts of kindness. – Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
A lovely thought from a fantastic novel. We don’t need fancy dinners or diamond rings to show someone that we love them. One the contrary, we need less tangible things like consistency, loyalty, and, hopefully, laughter. What matters is that your friends&sweethearts understand you, appreciate your quirks, and remain by your side (come what may).
In an effort to remain habitual/consistent with my rah rah rah experiments, I decorated the Minneapolis bike trail with a ‘happy fall’ banner. The simple banner was made by painting burlap and then stringing the letters together on a ribbon. Happy fall, y’all:
When the experiment ended, I met up with Lauren for thrift store shopping. We didn’t find any clothes, so we bought non-prescription glasses for fancy dinners, baby showers, and hot dates.
I got home feeling pretty optimistic about the day, but wishing my sign had ended with “y’all.” I made a pretty graphic to make up for it:
what you say when you fall out of bed
opps!! i just fallababa!
Jon called around lunch to see how my day was going, and I answered in a rush, “babes, can I call you back? I’m busy buying happiness.” The hubs knows my quirks, so he didn’t ask any questions – just told me he wanted details at dinner.
I try to keep a light tone with most of my rah rah rah posts, but the experiments are usually inspired by a scientific theory on happiness. My research comes from The Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, The Center for Compassion and Altruism at Stanford University, and, of course, the talented community at TED.
A 2011 TED talk by Michael Norton argued that we can buy happiness if we spend money on others. What’s more, Norton stated that we can increase our own happiness by spending as little as $5 on another person. $5 for happiness? That sounds like a bargain to me.
I decided to test his theory at one of my favorite places on earth, Forever Yogurt. A new shop just opened up in south Minneapolis, and so I decided to spend the afternoon buying ice cream for whomever walked in the door. Well, up to $20.
A woman entered the ice cream shop a few minutes after I finished a tub of Angel Food Cake/Pumpkin Pie/Nutella, and I was ready to go. I creepily watched as she filled her bowl of ice cream, loaded up on toppings, and made her way to the register. And then, it was my moment – I intercepted her at the register and offered to pay. I said it would make my day if we should let me buy her ice cream.
The woman looked confused, at first, and then she started beaming, “Stuff like this never happens to me. Thank you so much.”
Isn’t that what people say when they win the lottery or receive an honorary PhD? Could the free ice cream really have made her that happy? It seemed so.
The second woman I approached walked in smiling, seemed to get happier as she picked out her ice cream, and was just about over the moon when I offered to pay for it. She didn’t seem surprised at all, just laughed and said she would pay-it-forward by the end of the day.
The final stranger (they were getting massive bowls of ice cream and $20 only goes so far) was a young girl on her lunch break from the clothing boutique next door. She said she’d heard about random acts of kindness before, but didn’t think they were common enough to happen to her. She also said the free ice cream ‘made her day’, and that she was excited to tell her friends about the random act of kindness.
It appeared to me that the strangers were all happier as a result of the free ice cream, but this project was intended to make me happier, not them. I choose to buy things for strangers, as opposed to friends or family, because I like the idea that they can’t pay me back. If I bought my friend a t-shirt, she would bring me a book the next day, and the cycle of giving would never end. A stranger, however, could only repay me by helping another stranger. A lovely circle, right?
But anyway, I digress. Did the project work? Absolutely, but not like I thought it would. It’s nice to see people get excited, but that alone doesn’t increase my happiness. What did make me happy, however, was the feeling that I had spent my time wisely. If I did nothing else today, I had made 3 people smile, and, hopefully, inspired them to feel more compassion for strangers. I had devoted $20 and 2 hours toward promoting kindness, and that, dear readers, did make me very happy indeed.
I like calling my friends to see if they can play. I started making the formal request in the 6th grade, and I never quite broke the habit. Friends tell me that it’s not ‘play’ if you’re running errands or going to music festivals or baking a cake, but I persist. Maybe I just like the question. Strangers try and tell me I’m too old for play, but I can’t hear them because I’m busy on the swings.
I wanted to incorporate play into my RAH RAH RAH series, and so, quite naturally, I decided tattoo parlor would be a fun game. I designed temporary tattoos on my computer, printed them out, and then called my friends to see if they would play with me. Lauren agreed under the condition that she could pick out tattoos for strangers. Chrissy, being difficult, said she would only play if she could place the tattoos on strange body parts.
And so, our trio headed into the streets of Minneapolis to give temporary tattoos to strangers. We figured that 50% of people would find us annoying and 50% would get a tattoo for kicks. We were very, very wrong. 90% of people wanted tattoos, and our shop closed down from lack of supply within an hour:
I was typing this post and thinking about how awesome Chrissy and Lauren are. Top notch, really. Here is your chance to get to know them:
If you want to download the tattoos I made, you can find them here : tattoo.
Ronad Dahl says that if you think kind thoughts your face will light up and you will always look lovely. I tend to agree. I take it a step further, however, and think that if you share those thoughts you will actually be lovely. Actions speak louder than words, right?
TheDuck&TheOwl are poster children for speaking kindly of others. Each day they write eloquently and sincerely about the things that make them, and others, smile. When they asked to be involved in a random act of happiness (rah rah rah) promoting kindness, I almost did a happy dance.
The group of us created a dozen unique compliment cards, and then we took to the streets of the Midwest to spread some kindness. TheDuck&TheOwl worked their magic in Milwaukee, and I got busy in downtown Minneapolis.
Here are copies of the kindness cards I handed out:
City dwellers are famous for being absorbed up in their own minds and consumed by individual tasks. Let’s break the cycle and speak kindly to one another.
It’s common knowledge that I consider Thoreau a personal friend. I mean, heck, I threw the guy a birthday party this year. A bigger secret, perhaps, is that I consider his pal Emerson to my other bestie. Like, if the three of us all went to Harvard in 1835 we would have shared a lunch table. Or, even bigger news, I might have convinced Thoreau to let us all share his little cabin in the woods.
If you’re not into my favorite authors, this post might be throwing you for a loop. If you are, however, then you might be familiar with one of Emerson’s most popular sayings: “be kind, be honest, be silly.” A pretty good maxim for an optimal life, right? I have a penchant for kindness and giggles, and I’m a fan of honesty (qualification for BFFdom).
That said, I decided to pay homeage to my homeboy Emerson with an attack of the bees in Minneapolis. Come again? I designed the graphic below, made lots of copies, and then placed the bees all over the uptown neighborhood.
When was the last time that you were overwhelmed with kindness? It’s happened to me a number of times, but more often than not, it’s the goodness of a loved one that inspires me. Today, however, I was almost brought to tears by the generosity of a stranger.
Samantha recently opened an Etsy shop to sell gifts that she makes by hand with the help of her family. She read about my random acts of happiness on the blog, and she wrote a letter asking if her Etsy shop could support the project. I said yes, of course, and waited to see how the collaboration would evolve. A couple days later, Samantha sent me half-a-dozen baby outfits designed to look like cupcakes. She included the sweetest note:
Despite the title of the random acts of happiness, I decided to go a little targeted with this donation by giving the gifts to women in need. I feel like this is a new rule of thumb: commit random acts of happiness unless targeted happiness will provide a greater good. In this case, I knew that the Minneapolis nonprofit Birthright would be grateful for the thoughtful gifts.
Minneapolis Birthright provides one-on-one counseling for pregnant and expecting mothers. The nonprofit works with single, married, divorced and widowed women to dispense quality information regarding medical care, financial assistance, and childcare.
I spoke with a Birthright representative, and she told me that volunteers usually go yard-sale shopping to find baby items for expecting and new mothers. She commented that “it is very rare, if ever, that Birthright children own something brand new. “
And so, I decided to break the cycle of giving Birthright women secondhand apparel. I brought Samantha’s customized gifts to the center, and I told the volunteers to provide them to the women most in need.
Dear readers, if you want to make someone else happy, try an act of targeted happiness. Families in need are a great place to start, and a simple Google search with “donations + ‘your area code’” will display a variety of places that would be grateful for your donation.
And, finally, if you’re thinking of donating baby goods, why not start with something from Samantha? You can check out her Etsy shop KaeLilyBoutique, and show her just how quickly good karma comes back around. And remember:
Take a close look at my face and tell me, dear reader, would you trust me if you met me in the streets? What about if I tried to do something kind for you? Would you accept the act of kindness, or would you start considering my ulterior motives?
Committing random acts of happiness is not an activity for the faint of heart. I’ve had a few people inquire about getting involved, and so it’s time for a full disclosure: it’s difficult to get people to accept something for nothing. It’s hard to overturn the timeless adage that ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
I tried to show some goodness today by giving strangers ‘something for nothing.’ I placed my favorite books of summer on bench at the beach, and I left a short note asking strangers to enjoy the books.I did the candy for a stranger experiment with Justina Louise, and she commented that about 10% of people thought I was trying to harm them, 20% were too busy to be bothered, and 70% thought I was kind of awesome.
A study by Fetchenhaurer and Dunning (2010) put logic behind the various reactions that I received from my encounters that day. The scientists created an economic game that required people to accurately judge the trustworthiness of strangers in order to win. The study found that people consider 52% of strangers trustworthy, even though a whopping 80% of strangers are actually deserving of trust.
The good news here is that the chances of encountering a trustworthy person are much greater than the chances of meeting someone that wishes you harm. If you’re extremely cynical or risk-averse, you might say that you’d rather practice caution than encounter someone with ill intentions. That’s fine, dear reader, but if you don’t take the risk then you’ll never meet the 80% of strangers that are awesome.
“Your beloved and your friends were once strangers. Somehow at a particular time, they came from the distance toward your life. Their arrival seemed so accidental and contingent. Now your life is unimaginable without them.”
– John O’Donoghue
If that’s not enough reason for you to reach out, consider this: the study by Fetchenhaurer and Dunning also confirmed that the root of cynicism is lack of experience with strangers. What does that mean, exactly? Well, we established that approximately 80% of people are trustworthy. But, if your first few encounters with strangers involved the 20% of people with harmful intentions, then you’re probably not interesting in forging friendships with mysterious people. On the other hand, if you continuously encounter strangers from the trustworthy 80%, then ever stranger probably seems like a potential new friend.
The odds are in your favor. If you’ve had negative experiences with strangers, try reaching out and increasing your sample size – you’re due for an encounter with someone in the 80% of trustworthy people.
I’ve tried to create a compelling case for reaching out to strangers based on mathematical odds. But, dear reader, my final plea comes from the heart: I ask you to be the type of person that shows others how kind strangers can be. If someone is cynical of you, perhaps they only have experience with the 20% of untrustworthy people. Why not break that cycle and show them some goodness?After the rah rah rah, I went to enjoy my own read, Fin&Lady, on the lakeshore. After a couple of minutes, Chuck Love wandered over and asked if he could serenade me. Talk about getting lucky with strangers, right?
I’m the girl walking through town with a book in her arm and a camera around her neck. When I’m reading a book (the hours we spend in bed together is almost akin to dating), I translate the words into pictures, patterns, and designs, and the activity inspires some of my most creative thinking. I’ll be contemplating the words as the author intended them, but against my own background, experiences, and hyperbolic mind, I often envision a story all my own.
I’ve read a great number of books in which a young person is mentored by an older guide. These mentors are always filled with wisdom, and just eager to find a student that they can fill with their knowledge of history, people, and ‘the way things were.’ That said, I’ve always thought that it would be great to have one of these encounters on my own – maybe I would help a woman cross the street and then she would tell me all about how she fought for women’s rights. Or maybe I would sit next to an older man on a bus, and he would tell me stories about Vietnam. I’ve got a quarter century behind me, 26 good years, but I’m yet to have one of these mysterious encounters that are so prevalent in novels.
And so, I planned a rah rah rah experiment that would make a stranger happy by planning a picnic for them. And yes, I was secretly thinking that I would end up hearing tales of yonder all night.
To set the scene: I packed a basket with three turkey bacon wraps, a few bags of popcorn, and some pepsi-cola. I took that basket to the park, and then I proceeded to scan the area for strangers that might want to have lunch with me. The first woman I approached appeared to be about 70, and she was reading a novel under a shady tree. Perhaps she was reading a novel about an elderly woman who mentors a young girl, and wishing someone would approach her with a picnic lunch. Something told me we might be the perfect match for one another.
I approached the woman and told her about my project, and then invited her to have lunch with me. she smile gracefully, and then explained that her food allergies made eating with a stranger impossible. Well fine, fair enough. I had expected that preparing a meal for a stranger would have some trials (Jon is allergic to seafood, peanuts, zucchini, and squash, and he refuses to eat fruit or vegetables. You could say I know a thing or two about being picky eaters).
But I wouldn’t be defeated. I approached a young couple holding hands on a bench, and explained my project. Free food? They asked. I smiled, showed them the contents of the bag, and then plopped down between them. Suddenly date crashing seemed much more fun than learning about women’s rights and Vietnam. And so, I spent the next hour hearing about how they had met at the park 2 months ago, and spent every day together since. He was at college in Duleuth, and she was a senior in high school two hours south. They were planning to make it work.
It was incredibly happy to share a meal with them and listen to the story of their summer romance. And as for them, they seemed pretty amped-up about the free food. Happiness all around.
The amazing photographer Joy Lengyel made this picnic look like a photoshoot for Martha Stewart, right? Check out her work, and maybe send her a sweet note (why not?)
Oh, and good news: Jessica Gerke won the scarf give-away from AllThingsAccessories. Jessica, take a look at the shop, choose a scarf (teal and red retro bird, pink chevron, yellow and grey flower, or blue bird) and send me your address. Congratulations!
How many superheroes can you name in 5 seconds? Batman, Superman, and Spiderman are probably the most popular, but if you ask a true fan like my sister, she can easily delve into subcategories and lesser-known characters until you scream stop. The popular superheroes tell modern days stories of triumph that resemble the ancient Greek warriors. Every culture has their superhero because, as Spiderman’s Aunt May says, “Lord knows, kids need a hero. Courageous, self-sacrificing people. Setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero. People line up for them, cheer them, scream their names.”
Superheroes are known for sacrificing a normal life in order to fight evil. The masked crime-fighters teach us that we can’t save the world and still make it home for supper. The deeper message here is that fulfilling a personal mission requires sacrifice. Superheroes are required to deny family, time with friends, and an altogether ‘normal life’ for the chance to save-the-world.
Sacrifice humanizes the superheroes. We can relate to their longings for worldly goods, and we idolize them for tossing their personal desires aside. The sacrifice is also what highlights just how dedicated they are to their mission. There is pain in sacrifice, but there is also the promise that the gain will be with it.
The battle of good vs evil continues today, and opportunities to act on the side of good are all around us. I’m not suggesting that we pick costumes and superhero names (even thought that might be some fun), but I am asking people to make a conscious effort to act as a force for good. Think of ways to help others. Be kind to strangers. Volunteer your time.