Last week someone made a comment to me that made me laugh, and feel a little sad. While leaving a building I turned around to see if anyone was behind me and locked eyes with a woman who was too far away for me to swing the door out for her. It felt weird to let the heavy door slam by the time she reached it, so I decided to wait, door held open, while she walked over. She wasn’t elderly or anything, just another young woman. She laughed and said, “I think you are the first New Yorker to ever hold the door for me”, which made me laugh too because I know all too well the perception people have of the angry, rushed New Yorker.
Now, in this city we can be impatient, “why are you stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to bury your head in a map?!” and angry, especially when people interrupt us “Do I know you?”, “Don’t talk to me!”, but beneath our rigidness, we are all hardwired for kindness. Thinking about interactions with strangers got me wondering how I can be kind today, tomorrow, and if I can make it a daily habit.
If you think that there are people who are just plain unkind, a study conducted last year by the University of Wisconsin-Madison revealed that people can be trained to be kind. When trained in compassion meditation techniques, adults showed more empathy for human suffering than they did before they began the study. Researchers found that, “the people who were the most altruistic after compassion training were the ones who showed the most brain changes when viewing human suffering”. In other words, when we practice kindness our brain responds in interesting ways.
Like a muscle, we can strengthen being kind and reap some awesome rewards. Stress experts say that being kind lowers our blood pressure, and boosts our energy and immune system. After all, we are social emotional creatures and know very well the harm that comes from seeing, being a witness to, perpetrator, or victim of violence.
Here are some things we can do to practice kindness, which will make us feel happy, strengthen bonds, and give us the chance to connect with a stranger:
- Smile! Yes, just smile at someone. Maybe except when you are on the subway, be wary. Simply walking with a smile will make you feel better, and more inclined to be kind.
- Help someone who is struggling. Maybe it will make a parent’s day 10x better if you help them bring their carriage down the stairs, or hold the door for someone (bonus if you smile!)
- Laugh! Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand. —Mark Twain
- Say “Good Morning” to someone at the coffee shop, at school, or on the elevator at work.
- Ask a class mate or coworker how they are doing, or my favorite question, “What are you creating for yourself?” This always leads to interesting conversation.
- Call a family member and tell them you love them.
- Share a memory with a friend. I recently shared with a friend the habits I picked up from watching her mother during our youth. It was a lovely moment for us both.
- Thank someone for what they do for others and for being who they are.
What will you do today to practice kindness?
For more inspiration: http://mashable.com/2013/10/21/random-acts-of-kindness
Photo Source: http://fc03.deviantart.net/fs71/i/2012/123/b/7/take_what_you_need__by_shutter_shooter-d4ydpbi.jpg