This Simple Act of Kindness at McDonald's Improved a Dying Man's Life (That's Why It Went So Viral)

This starts as a sad story. Perhaps “wistful” is the better word.

It ends, for our purposes, with a small act of kindness–one that meant the world in the moment–and that also has meaning for one of the biggest brands in the world.

The setting: Australia’s Gold Coast. 

An ambulance crew was assigned to transport an elderly man, who is in the final throes of a struggle against a fatal disease, to palliative care. 

We don’t know his medical condition, but we can assume it’s serious. It was his wife who made the call, and when the EMTs arrived, she told them that her husband, Ron, had hardly eaten in the last two days. 

“If you could eat anything, what would it be?” one of the ambulance officers asked.

Ron’s answer was direct: “A carmel sundae,” he said. From McDonald’s.

So, the two-person ambulance crew did the only thing that made sense in the moment. They stopped at McDonald’s (Macca’s, as they call it in Australia), and got him his carmel sundae.

They snapped a photo, put it on Twitter. And things took off.

Recently, I asked 27 psychologists for their best advice on how people can develop habits that will make them happier, according to science. A few things kept coming up over and over. One of the most important was the practice of doing small acts of kindness for other people.

The psychologist known as the “father of positive psychology,” Martin Seligman, perhaps put it best: “Doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.”

Of course, for the ambulance officers here, this really was just a simple gesture. It probably took no more than five or 10 minutes out of the ambulance offers’ day. 

But it resonated, and spread far beyond the original Twitter post. And I think it’s because we instinctively recognize that these kinds of kindness improve not only the life of the person doing the act, and the person receiving it–but also all the rest of us who simply observe it.

“People call an ambulance when they are at a low point and are quite vulnerable,” the head of the ambulance service told one local news organization who wrote about this story, but “it’s the simple things and the level of compassion that make a really big difference to people.”

That’s a good point to keep in mind–for brands, for businesses, and for any of us moving through this intertwined adventure we call life.