Katy Guest: O come, all ye faithful, join my new religion

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The Independent Online

Most people will be working on their new year's resolutions this week as they frenziedly do all the things they are about to resolve not to do, in the brief but magical late-December window in which there are no such things as calories, and the booze fairies are looking after our livers. I've decided to go one better this time around: I am going to start a religion.

This is not a momentary whim brought on by too much buck's fizz and a particularly inspirational Queen's speech; I have been working on my religion for many years. But now I think that its time has come. Loosely based on paganism (but then, what religion isn't?) and random acts of kindness, my teachings will be vague and deliberately open to interpretation. My followers will be distinguished by their habit of leaving two opened carrier bags ready to use at the checkout, after they have paid.

The problem we have with our existing religions is that they are too susceptible to misinterpretation. It's as if the more specifically an instruction is written down, the more centuries of ecumenical energy will go into bending it until it fits the prevailing orthodoxy (men and rich people in charge; everyone else in the wrong). For instance, Jesus said "Love thy neighbour" and "Judge not, that ye not be judged," and yet whole denominations of Christianity now exist that seem to be devoted to judging their neighbours and hating them. It's what everyone's doing anyway; it's just easier if you believe that God wills it.

Instead of issuing any rules, I will demand that my followers ask themselves what to do. In the absence of instructions and interpretations, they will only have their own consciences to answer to. My hypothesis is that they will be kinder as a result.

I have decided to launch this philosophy now because it will be riding a current wave of acts of kindness. Is it specifically British, that we become nicer to each other in adversity? Or is all the snow going to our heads? During the white out and transport crisis that has recently hit Britain, I have seen hardened Londoners checking on their elderly neighbours and offering to take them to the shops. Clearing the snow outside your own house often leads to helping to do the same for someone else. Research shows that random acts of kindness produce a temporary high, make you happy, and are addictive. What's more, they have a ripple effect: the two people who find the carrier bags left open for them at the till will each be touched with warmth, and pass it on with RAKs of their own. Whole cities will be affected.

A random act of kindness should be small, and preferably cost nothing, but should put out the giver just a little bit. They should be directed towards strangers, or people observably less fortunate than ourselves. For instance, everyone should give way to cheaper cars than their own. At a music festival, pick up twice as much litter as you drop. When you "buy one, get one free" but you only want one, leave the spare packet of satsumas in a bicycle's basket in the car park. You might just prevent someone from getting a cold.

After performing an RAK, the giver should run away before seeing it received. That way, all manner of benefits to the recipient can be imagined. Kindness makes us happier, and happiness makes us kinder, and so this can only result in an outbreak of joy all across the country. This is my gift to Britain this winter solstice. Now leave this paper open in a café, and pass it on.