There is a feeling we get when we bear witness to the kindness of others. It can make our hearts ache, or move us to tears. Researcher and psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls this feeling ‘elation’—“a warm feeling in our chests, a sensation of expansion in our hearts, and an increased sense of connection with others.”
This elation we feel when witnessing acts of kindness has made Leon Logothetis (pictured above) a viral sensation in recent weeks. He has been touring the U.S., giving unsuspecting strangers $1,000 when they share their stories. Strangers like Janet, who devotes her time to children, or Daniel, a homeless man in Chicago who offers notes of positivity to busy commuters.
Following Leon’s video with a young homeless father named James, and his son, the public donated an additional $53,000. Why? Because not only does witnessing the kindness of others move us to tears, it also moves us to be kind. Jonathan says it leads to “an increased desire to help.”
Leon says kindness is simply “contagious.”
“The smallest acts of kindness have broken my heart open on my journey. It can be something as simple as offering a seat, or some kinds words.” – Leon Logothetis
Since being inspired five years ago to quit his well-paying job, Leon has visited 90 countries—often with only $5 a day—leaning on, and learning from, the kindness of strangers. In return he has offered to pay for schooling, housing, or a trip that these caring strangers could not afford.
The stories of kindness are endless. Stories like that of Tony, a 49-year-old homeless man, who offered Leon a safe place to sleep on a Pittsburgh sidewalk, and provided Leon with clothes and food. “The more kindness I receive, the more I want to give back,” says Leon, who offered Tony a chance to follow his dreams and go back to school. It’s so little, Leon says, compared with “the gift of compassion from kindhearted strangers who give with no expectations, and who often have very little themselves.”
Kindness doesn’t need to be big, and it certainly doesn’t have to be about money, says Leon. “The smallest acts of kindness have broken my heart open on my journey. It can be something as simple as offering a seat, or some kinds words.”
Kindness doesn’t need to be big, and it certainly doesn’t have to be about money.
But it’s not always easy for people to “drop their masks and reveal their hearts,” he says. “We can be holding a lot of pain that stands in the way of our kindness. Sometimes I have to ask nine people for help before finally the tenth person says ‘yes.’ This is human nature. While I believe we are innately kind, we can have layers of pain that hide it from us.”
Leon says he had to deal with his own pain before he started his journey. “I had everything externally that I could need, yet nothing internally. It wasn’t until I released and shared that pain that I freed myself up to be kind, and to receive kindness,” he says. “I don’t always succeed, but I am committed to trying.”
Now Leon says he has four guidelines that help him practice a life of kindness—he kindly shared them with us:
1. Practice Compassion, Empathy, and Love
“I’ve found that if I work at laying a foundation of compassion, empathy, and love inside myself, then even on bad days, I can still return there, and find it within me to be kind to others.”
2. Be Committed
“We have to be kind to ourselves by committing that we will live the life we dream, and never giving up. It is the same with our commitment to be kind to others.”
3. Be Present
“Only by being present can we really hear what it is that others need. For me that comes through meditation and listening to music, but it could be anything that brings us to that point of calm and stillness.”
4. Live a Life of Service
“For those of us who have everything we need, it’s an obligation to be of service to the world, and to give back. There are so many ways we can help. My aim each day is to give back as much as I can.”
The profound feelings we experience when we observe the kindness of people like Leon, Tony, Janet, Daniel, and James leads us to become part of the chain of kindness. But our hearts can be touched and inspired all of the time—once we realize the kindness of others is everywhere.
“Wherever we look, we find the kindness of others… Everything we have and everything we enjoy, including our very life, is due to [their kindness],” says Buddhist monk and teacher Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
Our mothers, our teachers, those who lay roads for us to travel on, the farmers who grow food for us to eat, the doctors who ensure we remain healthy, the people who build hospitals—their mothers, and their teachers… The list of those whose kindness has brought us to this very point is endless. So we don’t have to wait for the contagious effects of kindness to move us. We can be inspired right now.
Helen Avery is a Section Editor at Wanderlust Media, working on the Vitality, Wisdom, and Wellness channels on wanderlust.com and YOGANONYMOUS. She is a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, and full-time dog walker of Millie.