- My STEP project was a creative arts endeavor consisting of a series of random acts of kindness and interviews around the city of Portland, called the “Week of Sunshine.” The project focused on spreading kindness as a way to start a conversation about the ways people create their own happiness. These observations and conversations were channeled into an interactive blog.
- I went to Portland expecting to learn about myself and others, but I gained so much more than even I thought I would. When I began the project, I believed I was going to learn about big, grand ways to make yourself happy and impact the lives of those around me. However, I discovered that so much of happiness and kindness come from the smallest things, and that we all have the power to make the lives of those around us a little brighter in almost every interaction. Almost all of my interviews revealed to me that what sticks out in people’s memories are small kindness, such as a ride home from the hospital or a free haircut or the simple act of taking the time to listen. I found myself growing in courage as I forced myself to step out of my comfort zone to talk to strangers, something I had never been very comfortable with since I was young. Now, I know the power of eye contact and a smile, and even though the project has officially “ended”, I’ve continued to make an effort to reach out to everyone I pass by on the street, even if it’s just for a moment. Throughout this project I also was able to experience so much kindness towards me that my heart has been consistently reminded of the genuine goodness of people. From bus drivers to cashiers to hosts to children in the park, my eyes were opened so much to the fact that, quite simply, people want to be kind to each other. When given the chance, human beings so often choose to be kind, and that has given me more hope than I can describe.
3. One thing I focused on in my project was handing out and hiding encouraging notes around the city. On the business cards I had printed with links to my Week of Sunshine blog, I would write messages such as “You are enough, You are important, You are loved, You are valuable” etc and put them in books, mailboxes, car windows, or directly into the hands of those I interviewed. I received emails from the recipients saying how much the notes meant to the people I gave them too, often hearing how such a small reminder “made my day.” Several replies mentioned that the person had never been on the receiving end of such a random act of kindness, and how much hope it gave them.
Another large part of the project involved interviewing strangers about things in life that made them happy- I asked questions such as where their “happy place” was, what were “little things” in life that made it worth living in their eyes, and what was the nicest thing anyone ever did for them. The responses I received truly opened my eyes, as I mentioned earlier, to the power of small acts of kindness. Most of the little things people cited were things like listening, smiles from a stranger, hugs, and being together with family. The same can be said for all of the nicest things people had had done towards them- there were no grand stories of being rescued from a burning building or anything like that, but I heard over and over again about someone simply stepping up to be there for someone in their time of need, and making the effort to show that they care. All of the happy places were little things, too, not vacation destinations or dramatic things like mountain tops, but reading alone on a rainy day, listening to music, having dinner with their spouse, etc. These interviews have made me appreciate all the little things in my life moving forward, and have taught me to make a greater effort to ensure that others experience such small kindnesses from me as well.
As for the kindness I experienced towards me, it was often strangers reaching out to help a 20-year-old young woman caught in a moment over her head. A bus driver in Portland who hand-delivered me to my destination, a woman I interviewed who told me how much she believed in what I was doing and hoped I found happiness out there too, the members of a church I visited who took the time to pray for me and hug me when I was struggling, my Airbnb host who made sure I felt at home and was being safe, along with flowers and endless encouragement sent to me from loved ones back home. It was incredibly humbling to realize just how much support I have in my life, from those who know me and even those who don’t. Going forward, I’ve begun making more of an effort to express my appreciation for those around me, and to allow myself to receive these kindness with open hands and heart.
4. As a nurse, my life will be dedicated to serving strangers who often will not be able to “repay” me in any measurable way. However, from this project I know that my ability to impact their lives will not just be in the medical interventions I perform, but from taking the time to listen and smile and simply be there for them. As a human being, I know my life is intricately intertwined with everyone I interact with, even those that I just pass on the street and won’t see again. I know now the power I have to positively impact everyone I meet, even in these small ways and moments. I have been completely transformed after my Week of Sunshine, from having my hope in the goodness of the human heart completely renewed, to being humbled by an outpouring of love given to me in my weakest moments, to seeing the beauty in all the little things in life. Coming back from Portland, I know that I am a stronger, softer, kinder, braver, and more generous person than I was when I left. As someone who will make it my mission in life to heal those around me, these lessons I have learned about comforting the soul as well as the body will prove invaluable.
You can read many more details about my project, the lessons I learned, and the people I met on my blog at http://weekofsunshine.blogspot.com/