Sadness or contemplation tends to make people look down. A local project hopes to reward that behavior.

The Kindness Rocks Project wants people to paint encouraging messages on rocks, then leave them where they’re likely to be found.

Almost everyone could use encouragement, said Sister Martha Abshire, vice president of mission integration at Our Lady of the Lake College and part of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady.

“To have something that is a simple, positive message, I think that really makes a difference,” Abshire said.

A rock might have only a few words — "Hope," "You are beautiful," "Be kind" — or a longer message, with perhaps a more religious tone, “Where there is darkness, bring light,” borrowed from St. Francis of Assisi. 

Kindness Rocks are not unique to Baton Rouge, but the movement is gaining traction here.

Our Lady of the Lake College and Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center began participating in the project at the suggestion of Natalie Herndon, a senior marketing specialist with the Franciscan Missionaries. Herndon had come across one of the rocks while walking along Lake Ponchartrain last October. She discovered Megan Murphy had started the idea in 2015 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, leaving rocks with encouraging messages along the beach where she walked daily.

Local staffers and patients began inscribing messages on small, smooth rocks, such as those found in ponds and aquariums, using Sharpie pens and paint, finishing them with a coating of Modge Podge gloss or clear gloss spray paint.

The rocks were then left where passersby were likely to find them.

Now schools and companies are joining the cause. On a recent Thursday, students from St. Joseph’s Academy, employees of Covalent Logic, teachers representing City Year and a cancer survivor who’d been treated at Mary Bird Perkins gathered in the OLOL lobby to add their messages to some rocks.

“The main message that I really want to spread is to always keep your head up, to make sure you stay strong,” said Brianna Young, 23, of Jacksonville, Florida, a City Year math intervention specialist at Broadmoor Middle School. “Any positive affirmation that can help change a child’s life is something I’m going to use.”

Ellen Sessions, who said she is now free of the breast cancer she was diagnosed with in 2016, painted the words “hope” and “courage” on rocks that day.

“It takes a lot of courage to face cancer,” Sessions said. “It takes a lot of strength that a lot of times you think you don’t have. … It’s a different journey for everybody, but you’ve got to have strength an encouragement from others.”

Inscribers are asked to write #BRKindnessRocks on the back of the rocks so people can mention where the rocks are found and send photos of them to social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. There's also a Facebook page, Baton Rouge Kindness Rocks Project, where people can report their finds.

So far, the Facebook page has 319 members who have made 139 posts and sent out 55 Instagram hashtags.

Follow George Morris on Twitter, @GWMorris.