To cultivate kindness, first you need to have a sense of what it is. For me, it’s about giving of oneself freely, for the pure joy of giving without an expectation of reciprocity or strings attached. (Admittedly, that’s not always easy!)
For many people, life's challenges can make kindness a bit of an afterthought. We seem shorter on kindness than we were a few years ago. Though we can’t turn back the clock or control what will happen next, we can find ways to replenish our kindness reserves.
To do that, here are a few thoughts on how to get your kindness groove back – and spread it to others who may need a dose just as much as you do. Not only will you help make your corner of the world a better place, but wonderful side-effect is that your kindness will also give your body and mind a health-enhancing boost. So let’s get started:
1. Have a better morning drive—let someone cut ahead.
Give that aggressive driver a genuine smile, a wave, and let it – and him – go. He gets that small victory he’s clearly so desperate for and you can enjoy the feeling of not being quite as wound up as he must be!
2. Connect with others, even if it’s just for a moment.
On the commuter train, look up from your gadget and pause for a second to actually look the conductor in the eye when he takes your ticket. Smile and say thank you. Your simple act of acknowledgement and appreciation may be the highlight of his day.
3. Share a laugh.
Be it with the guy who sells you your weekly lottery ticket, the cashier at the grocery store, or your elderly neighbor, breaking the monotony of the day with an unexpected laugh is a simple but powerful act of kindness, humanity, and connection.
4. Smile like you mean it… and eventually you will.
Though sometimes it may seem like a Herculean effort, the simple act of smiling is an instant mood booster and attitude re-adjuster for you and those on the receiving end, be they a total stranger or close friend. In other words, everybody wins, so why not?
5. Stop and smell the gratitude – the kindness will follow.
The kindest people I know are those who are truly and profoundly grateful for even the smallest blessings in their lives. Some have gone through enormous difficulties to arrive at that place of gratitude while others have not. Regardless of how you get there, it’s almost impossible to be unkind when you are grateful and appreciative.
6. Be aware of your power.
Granted we all have bad days, but be conscious of your effect on others. Know that a grumpy response barked at a subordinate can ruin their day in an instant –that’s not very kind, is it? In other words, don’t take your frustrations out on innocent bystanders – and if you do, be swift with an earnest apology. An awareness of how your behavior impacts others can help keep the waters of kindness flowing – in both directions.
7. Learn to listen.
When a friend or loved one is in a difficult spot, one of the kindest things you can do is simply listen. Though you may not be able to ease their pain, you can give them the chance to be heard, which sometimes is all that’s needed. If they ask for your opinion, by all means give it, but tread lightly and be diplomatic in your responses. Use “tough love” sparingly and only when absolutely necessary.
8. Connect live, in person – not on Facebook.
Anyone can post to Facebook but, a true act of kindness is giving of your time, talents or showing up physically to lend a hand. With all due respect, simply “liking” an organization or person on Facebook doesn’t go quite far enough.
9. Put down the boxing gloves.
Plenty of people are kind to others but brutal to themselves, relentlessly beating themselves up over past mistakes. Learn to show yourself kindness by forgiving yourself, learning from your mistakes, righting wrongs when possible and moving forward.
10. Just do it…and zip it.
As in: keep your kindnesses to yourself. Kindness isn’t about showing off or telling the world what a sweetheart you are. Just do it quietly, without fanfare. I found out (somewhat accidently) that one of my patients has been quietly delivering meals to homebound people several times a week for over a decade. Turns out not even his closest friends know about his volunteer work and that’s just the way he likes it.
11. Know your limits.
Kindness is not about martyrdom. It doesn’t mean being a doormat or allowing yourself to be taken advantage of. When it comes to kindness, it’s just as important to know when to say no, and how to say it with kindness. For those who have trouble turning people down (as well as those who don’t), the most useful phrase in the English language is “I would love to but…” – it’s kind, gentle and firm – and enables you to put boundaries in place when needed.
12. Practice unconditional kindness.
Judging who is worthy or deserving of your kindness isn’t really kindness at all. True kindness is a gift that’s given freely across the board, whether someone appears to “deserve” it or not. Everyone is “worthy” of kindness and respect, even if you don’t particularly like that person.
13. Put yourself in the other person's shoes.
Empathy and kindness go hand-in-hand, so learn to cut people a little slack. They may be going through a rough patch, so there’s no need to pile onto their pain with harsh words or aggressive responses. In the words of Plato, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Keep this in mind to inspire your acts of kindness every day.
14. Don’t hold back! Experiment with letting compliments flow.
They don’t have to be over-the-top or effusive – just a simple positive comment will do – but do get into the habit of earnestly complimenting others. Praise your assistant for handling a problem well; tell your significant other that you appreciate their putting the kids to bed; thank the delivery guy for being so quick, then throw in an extra tip. There are so many small ways we can surprise people and spread a little joy with an unexpected kindness or compliment, there’s little reason not to – so don’t hold back.
And one last thought on kindness: you’ll get better with practice, so remember to flex your kindness muscle every day.