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A note from a stranger

A few months ago, I was at a café, getting dinner after an excruciatingly long day at work. I was exhausted, and I ate my sandwich without enjoying it very much. Just when I decided to pay the bill and leave, the waiter came to my table with a plate of delicious chocolate tart and a note. ‘Looks like it has been a hard day. Don’t worry, it’s going to be okay’, it said. Pleasantly taken aback, I looked around for familiar faces, but there were no other customers at the café. The waiter told me that the person who sent me the note and the tart had just left. Hurriedly, I picked up my bag and ran to the door, but the person had disappeared into the crowd on the street. All exhaustion from the day had vanished, as I stood there holding my note and smiling.

I never found out who the stranger was or why they had decided to write me a note. But I realised the power of a simple act of kindness. I realised that something as simple as smiling at a stranger on the metro can make a difference. It’s like motivational speaker and author Steve Maraboli once said: “Smile at strangers and you just might change a life.”

Perhaps, this is what London-based artist Andy Leek had in mind. Leek has made a habit of leaving strangers handwritten notes to bring a smile on their faces. Drawing from his own struggle with mental health issues, the artist wishes to help people like him by sharing the lessons he learnt on his journey to recovery. I have no doubts about the power of the positivity that Leek attempts to spread with his initiative. Imagine you’re feeling lost and nothing is going the way you had planned, and you find a handwritten note in a phone booth that says, ‘Always keep in mind that when you’re sad, there will be a time when you’ll be happy again’.

Leek isn’t alone in his mission to spread smiles. In London, there is a mystery man who leaves flowers and motivational notes in public places with the simple aim to make people feel extraordinary. Among the many who were reported to have loved the gesture was 26-year-old Ruth Clark, who found a handwritten note and flowers at a bus stop and said they ‘made her year’.

Such noble deeds work beyond our comprehension. One may begin doing such activities with the simple aim of spreading happiness and joy in the world, without realising that their own life is transformed in the process.


Of course, when you read such positive messages, you feel inspired. Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg and communications expert Mark Robert Waldman, in their book Words Can Change Your Brain, throw light on how positive words work on the brain. “Positive words and thoughts propel the motivational centres of the brain into action, and they help us build up resilience when we are faced with the myriad problems of life,” they write.

Through his work—Notes to Strangers—Leek has been doing an incredible job of spreading positivity to hundreds of people. And turns out, this act of leaving notes to strangers benefits both parties—the one writing the note and the one reading it. Leek calls it a ‘positive cycle’. Along with the reader who is inspired by the positivity, the writer is also inspired by the act of coming up with the message. Newberg and Waldman write: “Certain positive words—like “peace” or “love”—may actually have the power to alter the expression of genes throughout the brain and body, turning them on and off in ways that lower the amount of physical and emotional stress we normally experience throughout the day.”

Such noble deeds work beyond our comprehension. One may begin doing such activities with the simple aim of spreading happiness and joy in the world, without realising that their own life is transformed in the process. Perhaps, every good deed starts a positive cycle. And in a world that is full of reasons to be negative, the initiatives of people like Leek and the stranger who left me a note are a blessing.

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