Kindness starts with being kind to yourself.
Ever notice how much better you treat others when you’ve taken care of yourself? It’s easy to work through lunch in a pressure-filled environment, work through dinner, and respond to emails at 11 pm. But the world often rights itself when we take a moment to breathe, assess what we need, and seek it. (Sleep? A relaxed meal, anyone?)
Be kind to yourself when you misstep, which happens to everybody. Setting ourselves may cause collateral damage, making others the target of the anger or frustration, or disappointment we really feel about ourselves. It can feel good to direct these upsetting emotions away from ourselves and onto others, but for how long, really?
Lead with compassion, follow with kindness
Everyone has challenges, many hidden from sight. If you knew that your coworker delivering the curt response to a question or the snarky critique of a project had recently learned of a serious illness in their family, wouldn’t you cut them some slack? And better yet, might you then want to reach out with support? When we are compassionate, we recognize our shared human condition. Compassion can guide us to acts of kindness. Maybe we keep our mouths shut instead of calling out the misdemeanor. Or we find a private time to ask if everything is okay. Sometimes kindness is offering to get coffee or bringing back a cookie from a lunchtime workshop just because.
We feel happier when we act in service to others.
A recent study reported on how people felt after performing or observing kind acts every day for seven days. Participants were randomly assigned to carry out at least one more kind act than usual for someone close to them, an acquaintance or stranger, or themselves, or to try to observe kind acts actively. . The researchers found that being kind to ourselves or anyone else — yes, even a stranger — or actively observing kindness around us boosted happiness.
While we may not have control over another person, we do have control over ourselves. What does it mean to be our best selves? Isn’t being kind in the mix of choices we have every day? We can’t make anyone else kind, but that doesn’t have to stop us from aspiring to be kind, no matter what.
Give to give, not to receive
The purest form of kindness may have no audience and offer no credit. Kindness to accumulate thanks is self-serving at best. Some may even say it’s an effort to control or make the recipient feel indebted. But when we are kind, even if — maybe especially if — there’s no such payback, the rewards may be all the sweeter. I heard a story about someone who learned that a child from a family with very little money really wanted a bicycle. This fairy godparent bought a super nice bike and asked the shopkeeper to write a highly discounted receipt for an amount the family could afford. The family reimbursed the fairy godparent for the receipt price without knowing it cost far more. Now that’s kindness!
We become kinder with practice.
So, practice. Aesop, the ancient Greek storyteller, once said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” If random acts of kindness don’t come easily to you, try this challenge: do one small, kind thing each day for someone. Then pay attention to the impact on you. Does it become easier the more you do it? Do you start to notice and act on more opportunities to be kind in your world? Do you start to feel lighter? Kinder?
Kindness generates kindness
Just as a bully of a boss can foster a culture of bullying and fear down the hierarchical line, kindness from one helps foster kindness in others. We often take our cues from leaders, coworkers, labmates, and others we live with many hours a day. Why not be the kind person from whom others take their cues? The one who helps people turn to one another in small and big ways illustrates a spirit of generosity?
Kindness is lasting
When I was a terribly insecure and shy misfit of a college freshman, I went through the cafeteria line by myself one fall day. When I got to the checkout, the woman at the cash register said, “You have such a pretty face.” Now, over 40 years later, I still remember that unexpected moment of kindness from a stranger. Who do you remember most? And how do you want to be remembered?
Kindness is a gift everyone can share.❤