Shannon Schultz couldn’t help but smile. It had been a wonderful 44th birthday for the Cedarburg, Wisconsin, real estate agent and mom of three. As a beautiful cake sat before her, its candles ready to be blown out with her greatest wish for the coming year, a familiar desire filled Shannon’s heart…the same one she had felt just four years earlier.
Shannon had been getting ready to turn 40, and as her friends discussed how they’d each commemorated that milestone, one woman chimed in with an idea that had instantly hit home.
“I counted down to the day by checking things off my bucket list,” Shannon’s friend shared.
A bucket list! Shannon thought. A list of things she’d always wanted to do, but had yet to fulfill…
“But why limit it to just me?” Shannon observed to her family later that day. “I’d rather count down to my 40th by doing things for other people instead!”
Immediately, her family had agreed, dubbing Shannon’s idea a “kindness countdown” wherein they would complete one small, simple, and random act of kindness a week for the 40 weeks leading up to Shannon’s big day. And as the memory of all of the joy they had spread washed over her, Shannon knew that this type of action was even more necessary in today’s world, which had become even more uncertain. As she blew out her candles, Shannon had one wish in mind… make this a year of kindness.
45 Weeks of Random Kindness
“It’s a great idea, Mom!” her children exclaimed as she explained her plan for another act of kindness countdown — this time, one act of kindness a week for 45 weeks leading up to her 45th birthday. Just as before, the kind acts would center around doing good while also doing things the family loved, like spending time in nature and with animals.
As the Schultzes sat down to brainstorm different ideas, Shannon reminded them of one of the countdown’s ethos: “Be open to all the opportunities around us to do good all the time,” she encouraged.
Starting out with what was right in front of them, Shannon’s family got to work cleaning up the shores of Lake Michigan, donating shoes and supplies to a back-to-school drive for more than 200 children and giving blood at a blood drive. But as the fall turned to winter, Shannon found herself looking for even more ways to give… and was surprised to find them everywhere.
From freeing fire hydrants from deep snow to returning shopping carts at the grocery store, rescuing a chicken named Blair and filling gumball and toy machines with quarters for passing kids, every day offered a new opportunity, both big and small, to give back to others around them.
But when Shannon found herself in line at the department store, looking to pay for someone’s layaway purchase around Christmas, the air of “do what you can now” took hold, and she found herself paying for a whole cart for a family in line with her instead.
“Thank you so much!” the family cried, tears coursing down everyone’s faces. And as Shannon left the store, she knew this birthday countdown was the best one yet.
With every kind act, Shannon took to her blog (KindnessCountdown.com) to share about how each act of kindness brought her new perspective and gratitude. And when the COVID-19 outbreak hit, instead of focusing on all the plans that had been dashed, Shannon and her family began focusing their attention on how to find new opportunities to give, including making thank you treats for essential workers like the garbage men who arrived faithfully each week.
“I can’t believe I never thought of these things!” one of her 1,000 blog followers marveled. “You have inspired me to find occasions to do good in my own community! Thank you!” commented another.
Today, mere months out from her 45th birthday, which passed on June 30, Shannon is thrilled to have inspired people but insists that her own inspiration comes from a single, age-old tradition in her own family.
“We didn’t have a lot growing up,” she reminisces. “But my parents taught me to live with my heart and eyes open and to try to leave people smiling and happier than I found them. And it doesn’t take much — it’s often the simplest, easiest things that can change lives and bring true joy to those who need it most!”
3 Easy Ways to Show Kindness Right Now
- Feed someone’s meter! “Use quarters that are gathering in your car to feed the meter of the person parked behind you on the street,” suggests Kate Hanley, author and host of the How to Be a Better Person podcast. “It’s a fast way to brighten their day!”
- Let others go first! “Anytime you come to a crosswalk or are in line at a store, let the people you encounter go first,” Hanley says. “It’ll give them a little lift for the day!” Hanley says that even waving someone ahead of you in traffic puts you on the fast track to a great mood.
- Create compliment flyers! Visit Who-Arted.com to print out a free compliment flyer. Simply trim the edges and cut a straight line between each compliment on the flyer like “You look great today!” and hang it up in town for people to take the compliment they need to brighten their day.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.