How it Feels to Do a Good Deed: A Personal Story

Photographer Rebecca Arnold on kindness through the lens.


Rebecca Arnold Photography

Rebecca Arnold at the Limuru Children's Center in Kenya

A small, easy, good deed is simple and fun. And it really makes you feel good. There’s hard science behind this. It’s been studied and proven again and again.

Let me ask you the question: where would you like to do a good deed? And what would you like to do as a simple, good deed?

Really consider it, right now…I can wait.

What just happened to you? Just by thinking about it, you opened up, right? To possibilities. You got creative, thinking: “What do I want to do?” “Where can I give?” It immediately expanded you. All these effects are very positive to the human condition.

Then consider that you actually do that good deed. You’ll likely feel a sense of meaning and reward. It may be because you accomplished something. Or because you saw a smile on someone’s face, the person you just did a good deed for. It brings connection to others, a sense of community, and again - tapping science - your mirror neurons will imbue you with the feelings of that genuine smile. That’s upshot #2 for you.

And upshot #3 is paying it forward. By your doing a good deed, those you helped, those who you worked with to help if you were on a team, and anyone who just saw you do a good deed, or anyone you simply told about it later, feels inspired. They’re probably more likely to do a good deed themselves. Wow. Look what just happened! This is the ripple effect.

You never know all that can come from one single, simple, good deed.

I know. Years ago I wanted to do a good deed. I wanted to work with youth and art, so I volunteered in my city’s school district’s volunteer program in an inner city art class. It gave me the motivation and organization to finally scratch that itch, and volunteer at an orphanage in Africa.

Soon I was in Kenya, at an orphanage in the mountains, not far from the equator. After getting to know the kids, I did what comes naturally to me. I took some photos. Photography and travel were my favorite hobbies. Then I thought, what will I do with these photos?

Then came the epiphany: What if I gave the orphanage these photos to use? On their website and newsletter? It’s a win-win. Then I asked myself: what if I did this regularly? Start traveling like this instead of as a tourist? I travel annually anyway. I could do volunteer photography for nonprofits with no budget for it, as a way to give back, and have an adventure doing what I loved!

An idea was born.

Since 2011 I’ve partnered with almost 20 nonprofits on four continents. The photos I took have been seen by hundreds of thousands of people globally. They’re used in nonprofits’ social media, websites, annual reports, fundraising campaigns, and a major publication. And I’ve had photo exhibits in my favorite country in the world, Italy, called “The Others Inside Me”. It aims to bring this work close to home, deeply personalizing it for everyone.

And now my life has literally changed. Photography is becoming a new career. I am now paid to do this work. And the spirit of that first good deed, and the subsequent meaning and joy of giving back has infused me, so I proceed in my work with a social impact model. I shoot with nonprofits on a sliding scale, and I’m launching my nature photography with a project called “Photographic Green Spaces.” To place photos of beautiful nature on the walls of companies and in hospitals and other medical facilities in urban areas because science shows they reduce stress and increase wellbeing. I want to use my photos to help people. And give some of the proceeds to nature conservation organizations.

So yes, I know how good it feels to do a good deed.

I want to do good deeds, for the rest of my life.

Goodnet was initiated by Shari Arison and is operated by The Ted Arison Family Foundation.
Shari Arison is also the initiator of Good Deeds Day.