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Finding Joy at the Holidays

I just couldn’t find joy during the holidays and it led me to stumble upon my purpose.

Kindleigh Founder Leigh Clark and Kindness Ambassador Erica Castner pay off holiday layaways for strangers at a Florida Walmart
Kindleigh Founder Leigh Clark and Kindness Ambassador Erica Castner pay off holiday layaways for strangers at a Florida Walmart (Photo Credit: Charlene Walls at bookstudio413.com)

Yesterday, I stood in a Wal-Mart in Florida and threw fistfuls of receipts in the air like confetti near the layaway counter. Those receipts were from layaways that had been paid off for total strangers in an act of holiday kindness. I was standing with a fellow Kindness Ambassador and a photographer as we broadcast the message to others, through social media, on how they could feel this good giving back. Yesterday was a stark contrast to where I was around 2012. 

Having lost a really important job and, ultimately, my home in 2008, I had hit a personal bottom. It was the first time I had realized my soul purpose in life had been my profession, and it was an incredibly hollowing moment when that job was gone. 

While it took a couple years to get back on my feet and even get back to work, the mirror I had faced in that moment was one I couldn’t ignore. By the holidays of 2012, I knew I needed to find my purpose and, ultimately, find my joy. I was overweight and underwhelmed by life, so I set out on a mission.

What started on Thanksgiving Day that year was an act of kindness each day as part of a mind, body, soul makeover I committed to. Each day I’d find some way to give back, all the way until Christmas. 

At first, it seemed overwhelming and like way too much work, but I knew that a lesson was waiting for me. After just a few acts of kindness, the joy I felt was so profound that I began sharing more and more on social media.

One day I went into a store and paid off a stranger’s layaway. My $40 gesture paid for two toys for a family; knowing how good they’d feel, even seeing the smile on the cashier’s face alone, was so fulfilling. Everyone connected to that gesture felt goodness. I knew I was hooked.

It’s been so many years now, and I’m still going. Each holiday season, I perform a daily act of kindness. One year I was in the hospital, so I did things like make get well cards for fellow patients. Another year, I was on my honeymoon in another country, so I used Google Translate to express random acts of kindness to the recipients.

With each kind act, my heart swelled (I mean, I wasn’t the Grinch before, but my heart didn’t feel full). I wanted others to feel the good feelings that kindness gave me, so I shared with the world . . . no matter what people thought of it. I knew that my purpose was to find my joy and give it away, and for me, my joy turned out to be kindness. 

As the years went on, no matter the situation, I would try to find a way to give in some small way. I sought opportunities to help. And then, it changed my life entirely. I went on to launch a charity called Kindleigh that does random acts of kindness nationwide and a kindness community with more than 5,000 members and 15 National Kindness Ambassadors. We do everything from donating murals to charities, helping the homeless, getting supplies to kids in foster care and so much more. 

Today, even my corporate career is focused on giving back and making an impact. I’m a nonprofit marketing specialist at one of the top tech companies globally, one that believes in social good. I spend my days discussing ways to make an impact with some of our nation’s top charities. 

And as for the layaways, we’ve had our biggest year yet, and we are not done . . . we’ve tackled New York, New Jersey, LA, Chicago, Miami, and more with the help of our team. It’s so exciting to know that together we are making a difference. 

While I’m certainly not saying, “Read this article, and launch a movement” (but please do if you’re so inclined or join ours), I am saying that kindness can be your emotional chardonnay this holiday season. Feeling stressed? Take a shot of kindness. It’s even acceptable during business hours.

Find a way to be a helper. Hold a door, wrap a present, donate a toy, pay a layaway, adopt a family, pay attention and put your phone away intentionally, find some small act of kindness. The easiest one is to ask how you can help and mean it. Trust me, being unhappy is a lot more work.

Cheers to #makingseasonsbright and finding peace on earth . . . one act of kindness at a time.

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