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Summit Shah: My Journey With Smile Cards

How Kindness Can Change a Life

We recently have heard so much publicity around someone paying for an anonymous persons coffee at Starbucks, or even the one-minute circles where 2 people just look into each others eyes for 1 minute, without speaking. What do these acts do for our minds and our bodies: building connections with strangers, paying for someone’s coffee or receiving a coffee?

Summit Shah possibly wondered a similar thing, is it possible to pay forward a smile? In 2007 or 2008, while Summit was still in college, he came across the concept of Smile Cards at a conference in Los Angeles, CA where he heard Nipun Mehta speak on his journey with kindness and the development of smile cards.” Summit reflects, “he talked about how kindness had impacted his life”, which left Shah “completely inspired”. He took those Smile Cards back to his hometown of Columbus, OH; they were itching to cause a stir.

The concept behind the Smile Card is a straight forward and beautiful idea to perform: “an act of kindness anonymously and invite the recipient to keep the goodness flowing by paying it forward.”

Summit did not immediately use the smile cards. After about 4-5 years from receiving the cards, his partner Julie came across a blog about a mother that celebrates her birthday by performing random acts of kindness to others. Julie sent the blog link to Summit, inspiring the itch of the Smile Cards that he received in LA! Summit immediately told Julie that they “have to pick a day and do a random act of kindness together”. He was thrilled and elated with excitement, recalling the talk that Nipun gave. His mind flooded with memories, and he wanted to bring that kindness and love into his hometown.

This spark between the two, friends at the time, ran them right to the most popular ice cream shop in Columbus: Jenny’s Ice Cream. There, Summit and Julie tasted ice creams and picked out their favorites, telling the cash register attendant that they wanted to pay for the “next individuals that selected [their] favorite ice cream flavors”. Julie and Summit even included a little message for the lucky individuals, mimicking Smile Cards: "Happy Tuesday! You've been touched by a random act of kindness. Tag you are it. Now go ahead and spread kindness to someone else.” Everyone was elated,the most elated being the cash register attendant! They were so eager and willing to help Summit and Julie. It was obvious, kindness was spreading!

Summit and Julie had so much fun that they decided to do the same thing the following Tuesday at another Ice Cream shop. Summit remembers “going to three different places” and laughing the entire time. Julie says that its “one of the happiest moments” that she has seen Summit in. They were not the only ones that had a blast with this epic gesture of kindness on a Tuesday night. They noticed that everyone involved from the person at the register to someone that ran and got a pen to write the message about spreading the kindness was just profoundly happy to be a part of the act. What a treat! Summit and Julie noticed that it was fairly easy to bring so much joy and positive feedback, encouraging them to make this a practice in their daily lives. They aim to perform a random act of kindness, like the Ice Cream shops, every Tuesday night together; while living their lives kindly everyday.

This sparked the creation of a shared Google Document names “Tuesday night.” In this document, Summit and Julie would list things that they wanted in their life. Things like “going to the drive-in theatre” and “eating Ice Cream” turned into their Tuesday night activity list. They goaled to bring random acts of kindness on each of their Tuesday evenings, whether via Smile Cards or paying for a stranger’s treat!
But, not everything that glitters is gold (unless you have a friend to say that it’s gold with you). This is what these two do for each other. When days get tough, they remind each other of the random acts of kindness and the reality “that [everything that happens] is not all about [them]”. Summit clearly, with conviction, says that “it is about what we can do for others and how we can make a positive impact and how blessed each of us really are in our day to day lives”. They use “kindness as a way to get through bad days as opposed to looking at kindness as a task that [they] have to get through”. They inspire to aspire, and aspire to inspire!

These practices of kindness, and the consistency in which Summit and Julie perform them, has transformed them from their first Ice Cream act of kindness From February of 2013 to now. Julie sees her change in her day-to-day interactions. She was raised in a family that emphasized service (albeit then if was always “activity based or hours base or organization based”) and sees it now in her daily actions to bring positivity to everyone she encounters in her day, her transformation being “in recognizing that those small acts can make a difference.”

Summit also always knew that he wanted to “help the world,” but back then it was at a grander scale. Through the random acts of kindness, he’s transformed into seeing “that the world truly can be transformed by these small day-to-day tasks that don't take certain years of training or certain amount of resources.” When challenged by non-believers about their mission, who questioned the significance of such small acts when many bigger problems are present in the world, they simply encourage the nonbeliever “to try it and see how it affects them.” Kindness can spread like wildfire, possibly even overturning the consistently bad into good!

Both Summit in Julie are professionals connected to the world of medicine and use random acts of kindness as a way of intersecting their professional lives with their lives of service and kindness. For Julie, the Smile cards have even “helped give [her] perspective in that there is more to a person than what is going between the four walls of the hospital.” She reminds herself to remind people that cross her path “that there is purpose outside of their work [by] emphasizing the importance of other things that provide one with fulfillment.”

The pair agrees that empathy and medicine are very intricately connected: “part of the purpose of practicing kindness is to develop empathy and to practice empathy with other individuals”; connecting with other individuals is what the duo strive for. Being a medical doctor and striving for being kinder and kinder in life, Summit treats his patients with that same kindness. Summit believes that kindness cultivates empathy. “By cultivating empathy” Summit says that he is able to “take steps back and see the broader picture of other individual's lives,” allowing himself to “take a step back from the moment of making a more objective decisions on diagnoses and treatments and management decisions, but, instead, look at more of the factors that influence a person's well-being, which are not directly related to medicine.” This results in “better care for patients by looking at the whole system which is driven by more empathetic care.”

Both Summit and Julie also practice missionary works, the most recent being in Mexico this past January. The team strives in kindness, whether acting together or acting solo. They strongly believe that “kindness makes us happier, reduces stress, slows aging, and even helps us get ahead. Just witnessing a kind act leaves us elated. Studies now show that kindness it determining factor for long lasting relationships.

Let us all smile, perform random acts of kindness, gift forward, build connections and change the world today and each day: “focus on your intentions, keep your intentions, focus on others and not on yourself, and you will be changing the world”.   

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