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Here’s how practicing kindness can help your whole family

Blurred image of a young woman with reaching hand kindness
Farknot Architect/Shutterstock

National Random Acts of Kindness Day is February 17. And though it may seem like just a cute concept, there’s a huge reason for you—and your family—to celebrate it: Practicing kindness equates to better mental health. (Though that’s just one advantage.)

You don’t have to spend your day picking up litter on your run or shoveling a neighbor’s driveway without being asked (though of course you can do those things!). But simply showing kindness to yourself or your family members can get you in on all the feel-good perks.

In fact, a 2022 study in The Journal of Positive Psychology found that acts of kindness can produce greater social wellbeing than some cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques used to treat depression and anxiety. That’s mainly due to the fact that being kind to others fosters social connection, which isn’t as commonly seen in CBT. This type of “prosocial behavior” can both help reduce anxiety and improve life satisfaction, study researchers found.

An earlier study in The Journal of Social Psychology reported on how people felt after they observed kind acts or performed them over a seven-day span. Being kind to ourselves or to anyone else—even seeing kindness in action—can make us happier. That can help us connect more, which can translate into better mental wellbeing and reduce loneliness.

Kindness isn’t just good for mental health; there are a host of other benefits like improving heart health and experiencing less aches and pains. It can also help your body make serotonin, the brain chemical known to keep us calm and happy. Considering that many of us, including our children, are struggling with mental health, this may be the perfect way to bring everyone together for a much-needed boost (and help keep kindness growing in your family and social circles).

How to practice kindness with your family—and boost your mental health

So, how can you and your family celebrate kindness on February 17—and all year long? Here are a few ideas.

  • Visit a senior home: Take your kids to visit a local senior home. Spend some time chatting, reading, or playing games with the residents.

  • Donate toys and clothes: Go through your belongings and have your kids select toys and clothes they no longer use to donate to charity.

  • Make care packages: Create care packages for the homeless or soldiers overseas. Include essentials and personal notes of encouragement.

  • Random acts of baking: Bake cookies or cakes and deliver them to neighbors, local fire stations, or police departments.

  • Write thank-you cards: Write thank you cards to community helpers like teachers, librarians, healthcare workers, or postal workers.

  • Pay it forward: At a café or fast-food drive-through, pay for the order of the person behind you.

  • Leave nice notes: Leave positive notes in library books, on park benches, or in other public places.

  • Add books to a Little Library: Find the nearest Little Free Library in your neighborhood and encourage your kids to pick out a few books to leave for others to find.

  • Give compliments: Spend a day giving sincere compliments to people you meet, teaching your kids the power of kind words.

For more ideas, consult The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. The nonprofit’s website is packed with tips and ideas on how to be kind and spread the love. (The group is also the hub for Random Acts of Kindness Week, which kicks off February 11.) Looking for a month’s worth of ideas? Check out this calendar for daily ways to feel better.

Whether you spend quality time with your kids, donate goods to people or animals in need, or just be kind to yourself by doing something you enjoy (or my personal fave: leaving uplifting messages on sticky notes around the house or in lunchboxes), there’s definitely more room in the world—and in our families—for kindness. And if there’s a mental health boost, well, we’re here for it.