The Joy of Unexpected Kindness and 3 Reasons It’s Hard to Be Kind

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” ~Howard Zinn 

Ever experienced an unplanned act of kindness and it completely transformed your day?

It’s something I did, and it is what I hope for you.

Take a second to reflect on the most recent time you experienced this feeling. What were your feelings like before? How did it turn out? How did it impact your life?

Looking back at my own life I see many moments when I was shaken by the surprise, unexpectedness or kindness shown to me.

Although it may sound odd, this seemed to be especially true when the stranger gave it.

That’s not to say that the kindness of those close to us isn’t important, because it is. When life is hard, the kindness and support of family and friends can help us persevere. Their joy makes our good times even more radiant.

An act of kindness, from an unanticipated source, can have a healing effect that is especially strong.

And most of the time this isn’t some great or inspiring act but just a very small gesture: a smile, a friendly greeting, a sincere question, a few words from someone who genuinely seems to wish you a good day.

The first backpacking trip I took was a blurred memory. I felt lost and staring at my map when I encountered a stranger who offered to point me in the right direction.

After a long journey, I felt tired and confused. The man behind the counter cleared my thoughts with his smile and friendly demeanour.

After sitting for 14 hours in a train station in Thailand, I was anxiously moving towards my first month-long meditation retreat. Then, suddenly, I received a couple of genuine words from someone across the aisle.

A woman was sitting in her car and rolling her window down to enjoy the joy of seeing her son ride down a hill with his bike.

Yesterday, I recall that the canteen cook advised me about what dish to select, and she did her best to make my meal with complete attention, before sincerely wishing us a happy day.

All these experiences left me feeling joy and connected.

The ability to be kind can make a difference in how you feel.

The power of kindness is unstoppable.

It is amazing that everyone has the ability to help spread kindness around the globe every day.

Again, take a moment to reflect on the time you were there. Please enter your email addressThey were the kind stranger. What was it like? It made you feel.

The second question is the easiest to answer. I’d guess it made you happy. It might be harder to answer the first question. Looking at myself, although I would love to say “today,” that just isn’t true.

Interesting, isn’t it.

So, kindness is very powerful and important, it helps us and others, it doesn’t cost us anything, yet it still is difficult to give every day.

I can think of many reasons why it is difficult, but to keep it simple I’ll list three:

1. Only you can give what is within your reach.

To give money to someone, first you need money in your account. You must be kind to yourself before you can show kindness to others.

This is the reason why meditations on love-kindness are so popular in Buddhism.mettāYou first need to show love-kindness and compassion to yourself. Then, you can give it to others.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to spend hours each day meditating; just start with a few minutes every morning (or any other time that fits your schedule) by wishing yourself and those close to you happiness and health. Next, try to live by this mantra throughout your day. Honoring your needs is key. Prioritize things that bring joy and peace.

It’s okay to wish yourself happiness; it’s not selfish. Being happy will allow you to share your happiness with others, which makes spontaneous acts of kindness more easy.

You can add time to wish good luck to others you don’t know, but you have the ability to. As it becomes more natural, you might even consider adding others to the mix. This will increase your ability to be kind and strengthen your power.

2. It is necessary to meet the person.

If you’re anything like me you live in a zombie state most of the time. Moving from place to place, working, talking, acting on what’s happening, checking your smartphone way too often, all without any form of true consciousness or mindfulness.

This test can be used to verify your suspicions.

Look in the mirror at the end of each day and see if you really noticed what and how you did it. That’s all.

Most likely, the truth is that you have just rushed through your day again.

If you don’t notice how you are during the day, if you are not mindful of your own state of mind, if you do not see yourself, then how can you truly see another person?

It all comes down to how much conscious space we have—how open our mind is toward ourselves and those around us.

When we have wholesome qualities like patience, energy and calm, our consciousness tends grow. However, it can be slowed down when we are prone to anger, want, envy and so forth.

These mental qualities are fundamentally dependent upon mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to view our mind in its entirety.

Let a goat run free in the field of grass. It will eat whatever it likes. A goat that is tied to a stick will only consume grass in the area of the pole and rope.

Mindfulness acts as a rope to keep our minds from being engulfed by the outside world. The mind can be kept within to prevent it creating illusions or personal realities which cause unwholesome thoughts.

A calm, contented mind is possible by keeping your mind in the present.

You don’t have to use a cushion or meditative position in order to improve your mindfulness. You can still practice mindfulness every day no matter what you’re doing.

Pick a few things you are familiar with and set the intention of doing them every day. Keep your eyes on what you’re doing and pay attention to it. If your mind wanders, bring your focus back to the task at hand.

The more you practice this, the more it will become an ingrained aspect of your mind, bringing with it the experience of calm and openness—and the better you’ll be able to really see other people and recognize opportunities for kindness,

3. It is important to be consistent in your practice and patient with yourself.

In the end, kindness isn’t different from other skills. You can be kind to anyone, but it takes practice to make that happen.

According to research from the University of Wisconsin, compassion can be taught. People can learn compassion, just as a person can train a muscle by lifting weights.

The most direct route I know of is training through meditation—by practicing loving-kindness meditation and the practice of being mindful, as mentioned about, even if it is only for a few minutes every day.

But don’t go at it with the businessman’s approach most of us grew up with. A businessman’s approach means expecting results relative to the time you invest. Developing the mind, developing kindness, doesn’t work that way.

Each person has their own unique qualities and obstacles. Some people are naturally gifted while others require more effort and time.

Don’t worry too much about the results; getting on the path to becoming a kinder person is the most important thing. You will soon develop kindness if you continue to practice patience. And it will become second nature to offer those small gestures of support, appreciation, and encouragement that can completely change someone’s day.


Wouter is often found with his family, playing with children or reading a book. Luckily for him, enough time remains for the daily practice of meditation and writing for the Buddho Foundation’s Buddhism & Meditation Blog. Wouter stresses patience and perseverance when it comes meditation. The desire to have quick results is one of the greatest obstacles to living a happy and free life.

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