It is hard to define kindness. I see it as acting for the benefit of humanity, animals or the environment. It doesn’t invalidate the act if people know about it, nor if the giver feels good as a result – as this Harvard study shows, this effect is a happy by-product of giving. Unfortunately, the coalition government’s cuts are the exact opposite of kindness. I wonder if the uncaring example it has set is partly why research published today suggests that nine out of 10 Britons rarely perform a simple act of kindness.
As an atheist without a rule book on how to act, I looked to my friends for inspiration. There was Graham, who had given blood 50 times and had been vegan for 12 years; Nick, who had signed up without remuneration to an NHS medical trial; and another Nick, a charity worker and former VSO volunteer, who had organised a sponsored cycling trip in aid of disabled children in Tanzania. I was surrounded by people doing good things, and I’d barely been aware of it.
I resolved to become a better person. I spent six months training and qualifying as a massage therapist, then gave massages for 40% of the going rate to charity workers, nurses, students, the unemployed and people on low incomes. I went to donate blood for the first time, signed the organ donor register and became vegan. I recycled as though my life depended on it, switched my electricity to Good Energy, and signed up with Age UK to volunteer to visit an elderly person for two hours a week. I also decided to sell 50% of my possessions in eBay charity auctions (which started last night), aiming to raise more than £3,000 for Médecins Sans Frontières. And, unexpectedly, I found that every new thing I did made me happier.