A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way

Version 2

We are living in such precarious and, even, perilous times. Each day another worry whether from natural disasters from hurricanes to wildfires, north, south, east, and west or another unfortunate expression of chaos in our government. I find myself checking the daily headlines for what new disaster is unfolding, what tweets have been sent from the hands of an immature man-child, what undoing has been done for the safety & health of people everywhere, or how much closer are we to a nuclear war. Emotions seen on everyone’s face — anger, fear, grief, frustration, hopelessness and helplessness — is more and more common.

I find myself between wanting to stay home, hibernate, and stay out of harms way OR being more social, nurturing connections, and reaching out. I cling to my practices that calm my nervous system for my sanity and support my health.

On the day of the shocking Las Vegas shooting disaster, I was driving home from North Carolina. The highways were busy and full of trucks carrying their cargo and nearly everyone in a hurry to get somewhere (yes, I’ve noticed more aggressive driving in this last year). I drove along in silence with my inner conversation my companion and my destination of home my focus. After hearing of the devastating number of people hurt or killed in Las Vegas on the heels of an unprecedented number of people who have lost everything from hurricanes or wildfires, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness, rage, and fear.

In my silence, I considered answers to many questions: Why is there not more gun control in place after so many mass shootings? Why is there diminishing compassion and instead a growing hatred toward fellow human beings through racism, LBGT, women’s rights, our environment, immigration (supported by this man who is president)? How can I help? How can I pull myself up and out of my own anger, sadness, and fear so that I can help others to do the same? What action(s) can I take to move forward in a positive way and help change the trajectory of our country?

I recall that Martin Seligman in his book, Flourish, speaks of kindness as important and powerful to positively affect both myself and those I extend kindness towards. A simple practice of being kind to others. Am I kind enough? Can I extend more kindness to others in the course of my day?

This recollection and my inner dialogue led me to re-committing to kindness as a mindful practice. Kindness, I know, has a rippling effect. How can I do more to be kind? For the rest of my drive, I practiced mindful kindness — allowing truckers into the passing lane by slowing down, moving out of the way of the person in much more of a hurry than I needed to be, and being mindfully courteous as the miles passed by. At rest stops, I made a point to make eye contact, say hello, and wish other travelers a good day. At gas stations or while getting food, I did the same. I began to feel lighter and a smile peeked out from other emotions.

What I noticed. When I extend kindness to someone on the highway by letting them by or pausing for someone to pull into traffic I notice that within a short period they will also extend kindness to another driver. When I open a door for someone or say a kind word with eye contact, a softening happens and that kindness ripples to others. Quite amazing and simple.

I have made kindness a mindfully conscious practice and am encouraging others to do the same by asking them to join me in spreading goodness and connection. The feedback has been incredibly satisfying! Those who have tried it for a week have also noticed a ripple effect in action (of course, not every time or with every person).

Kindness leads to more kindness.

How easy it would be to hibernate, keep my head down, and stay in the busy lane of life. It feels safer, protected, and effortless. However, it also keeps me in my fear and anger. In practicing mindful kindness, I can feel more hope because I see the positive ripple with each kind action. I may not be able to change the larger picture of discontent. However, I can make a difference toward changing my world one person at a time as I meet them on my way – a smile, a moment of eye contact, and a kind gesture goes a long way.

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Choice, Every Moment, Everyday

Version 2

What choice can you make today to be 5% happier? This is a question I ask on those gray days— whether gray outside or inside. Sounds so easy to make different choices and, yet, not always so easy. Today happens to be one of those days for me. I woke up to snow and wind (and, yes, it was forecast) which, surprisingly, I was disappointed that the forecast was correct in early April. I decided to finish a book I’d been reading. Once I finished the book, I found myself wandering around the house with little that interested me in doing. After about an hour of wandering, I decided to ask myself, “What can I do to be 5% happier right now?”

Making choices to be just 5% happier takes practice, mindfulness, and commitment with each choice. How do we begin? It is as simple as asking the question and waiting for an answer. Within minutes, I did decide to cook (which always makes me happy). Doing one simple thing changed my mood from OK to feeling satisfied and looking forward to dinner.

Through studying Positive Psychology, I have learned to ask questions, such as, what can I do to feel 5% happier. Other questions I ask help re-direct my focus from what I think isn’t working to focusing on what is going well and what is good. So I will ask myself, what is going well right now?; what can I do or say to feel differently?; who can I be that is more positive, mindful or present?; what can I appreciate more in this moment?.

One of my favorite questions, ‘Who do I want to be today?’, is a question I ask myself most mornings as I finish my journal writing before heading off to my day. My answers set a positive tone and intention to my day which has made my life more meaningful. It has become a positive anchor that I create each morning for myself and am, then, better prepared for the curve balls that life throws my way (most days there is at least one unexpected curve ball).

At the end of my day, in my evening meditation, I answer another question, ‘What am I grateful for?’. Gratitude has been proven to have lasting benefit toward a positive life and better health. For me, I remind myself of those experiences, things, people, animals, and family that make my life richer (even a good meal or a great movie find their way to my lists). Sometimes on my list are experiences that weren’t so positive but I learned from them. Acknowledging my gratitude keeps me from taking my life for granted. When I end my meditation and tuck in for the night I go to sleep with a full and open heart.

Each day we make choices — what to wear, what to eat, when to exercise, what to pay attention to, read, learn and do. I like knowing that I have choice. We also have choice around how to react, how to be present, and how we want to feel. Mostly, my choices have become much more mindful and positively focused. As a result, I am overall, happier doing what I love and living with purpose.

So, I’ll end here with how I began…

“What choices can you make today to be 5% happier?”