One night in mid-January, Jessica Watson couldn't sleep. Her mind wouldn't stop running.
Then, she had an idea.
"I just literally thought to myself that we all need to be kinder to each other," said Watson, 30, who runs her own design consulting studio in Baltimore. "These are the things that keep me up at night."
Watson wished there were a way people could more intentionally perform acts of kindness. So she started 28 Days of Kindness, a global initiative meant to promote the awareness of doing good deeds for others throughout February.
"When you look at the news … there's a lot of negative things that are occurring," Watson said. "These are such great times to band together and be there for each other."
The project's participants pledge to perform at least one kind act a day for the entire month. The acts can be spontaneous or planned, for loved ones or for strangers, as long as people are mindful of others.
"You can surprise just about anybody by doing a small act of kindness," Watson said. "It's a very easy day-maker, and I want to make a whole lot of days in February."
The project's website includes a blog updated almost daily with ideas, stories and quotes to fuel inspiration for kind acts. The initiative has gotten a boost from social media also, with a Facebook event page and the Twitter hashtag #28dayskind.
Watson said she was particularly impacted by acts of kindness last year, when she moved her company, JWatson Creative, around to 10 U.S. cities, including Miami, Seattle and Chicago, spending a month in each town.
"I kind of had to be a stranger on everybody else's turf," she said. "People [were] inviting me to hang out with them and inviting me to dinner. … Pople who didn't know me were open to getting to know me. I kind of sped up the friendship process."
For Anna Martin of Monkton, small acts of kindness can do wonders even in the toughest of times. Martin was able to share the 28 Days of Kindness website with her mother before she died of bladder cancer in January. Martin said she cherished the conversation that followed.
"We talked about how the little things are important," Martin said. "It's not the car or the money or this and that, it's our own ability to connect as humans, consciously and with purpose, that's valuable. We don't appreciate that when our lives are not in danger of being over."
Martin said it's essential that people take the time to nurture relationships with others.
"Take a break from your iPhone or smartphone and talk to [someone] for five minutes," Martin said. "If you actually take the time to have a conversation with someone, it's very obvious what's going to make that person happy."
Watson said between the website and Facebook event page, the project is getting hits from 15 countries outside the U.S., including Kenya, India, Germany and Spain — and the numbers keep growing. The Facebook event alone had more than 1,500 members as of early February.
But Watson said any number of participants would make her happy.
"Based off this year I can probably make some projections and goals for next year," she said. "But just to see what we have now and the continual growth is very inspiring."
Watson said the Facebook page has been a great tool for spreading the word about the movement. Some people, she said, even got started early.
"People on the Facebook side of it have been really adamant about sharing what they want to do and starting conversations about the project without me really having to moderate it, and that's really cool," Watson said.
Martin, who is close friends with Watson, said she wasn't surprised when she heard about the project. Kindness, she said, is what Watson is all about.
"Jessica is a very kind person who is always looking on the bright side of life," Martin said. "I know there are no ulterior motives for her, she just enjoys making people happy, and I'm happy to follow in her footsteps and do the same thing."