“…kindness is mandatory – it is the soothing fire we can rest beside.”
-Maria Sirois, Psy.D., Author, Inspirational Speaker
As I was reading through my emails the other day, Maria Sirois’s video blog series “What To Remember” resonated deeply. The surprising message that kindness is mandatory struck me as a stark truth, a message that needs to be shared.
You’re probably already familiar with random acts of kindness, where you spontaneously help someone who needs help, pay for a meal for the person behind you in the drive-through line, and the like. Of course, there are limitless things we can do for each other.
Nonetheless, I wanted to explore other ways of spreading kindness. Even when those around us aren’t being kind. Even when we’re suffering. Even when we are the ones who need to receive kindness.
Make kindness mandatory. It is the soothing fire we can rest beside. The practices below will get you started.
The character strength kindness is one of my signature strengths. Signature strengths are grounded in that real, authentic part of ourselves. These top strengths are so vital that they can become values by which we live our lives. In my life kindness has become one of those values.
I know this because after reflecting on Maria’s video, I realized that kindness is in short supply in my life. It’s not that others aren’t being kind to me, it’s that I’m unwittingly underusing this strength.
Lately, I have been feeling uncharacteristically irritable. I felt upset about not being able to see my family for Thanksgiving. I became irritated by the tone of voice someone used on a phone call or a mistake someone made that affected me. The list goes on.
I know not to simply dismiss or ignore these feelings. They are important to acknowledge and process.However, they’ve created an internal dissonance that I feel in my body. Tightening in the chest. Racing thoughts. A furrowed brow. This doesn’t feel like the “real” me.
Kindness is about listening, supporting, helping, encouraging, caring for and doing good deeds for others, and not expecting anything in return. Importantly, we shouldn’t forget to extend kindness to ourselves as well.
Demonstrating kindness not only feels good, it also cultivates happiness, health, longevity, connection, and positive experiences. In fact, caring for each other is noted as one of the defining characteristics of human evolution. A short, fascinating youtube The Evolutionary Roots of Compassion by Dacher Keltner describes this in more detail.
In present day circumstances, many of us find ourselves feeling overwhelmed on a regular basis. Kindness practices can help us navigate with strength and resilience. If the sense of overwhelm becomes too pervasive, however, seeking help from a qualified professional might be more helpful.
You can direct kindness toward others or yourself. Which might you choose to practice today? If you’re feeling irritable or isolated, you might start with a practice that creates feelings of compassion and connection with others.
This Feeling Connected practice on the Greater Good Science Center’s website involves thinking about a time when you felt a strong connection to another person and describing that experience in writing. Beginning here can help you shift your body and mind and make it more likely that you’ll carry out an act of kindness.
If you’re ready to try something more actionable, take a look at these Daily Kindness Practices from Action for Happiness for the month of December. It’s not too late to get started. Just begin with the current date.
If you need a dose of kindness, try turning this character strength inward to care for yourself, the way you would care for a loved one.
I started with the Feeling Connected practice. After completing it, I reflected on how vital my signature strength kindness is to my well-being. I felt more open to turning it inward, toward myself. As a result, I carved out time for a short daily yoga practice when I had convinced myself I didn’t have time to squeeze in another thing. Spreading kindness inward created a positive shift in my body and mind.
How will you spread kindness? Get started with one of the practices below!
To open up to kindness and feel more connected to others, try the Feeling Connected activity.
To put small acts of kindness into action daily, use the Action for Happiness December 2020 calendar. You might decide to print the calendar and give yourself a smiley face or star as you mark off each day completed. If daily feels like too often, pick a schedule that meshes better.
To turn kindness toward yourself, think of one way you can care for yourself right now. Perhaps take a nap, do a short meditation, phone a friend, forgive yourself for making a mistake, or allow yourself to be human.
Amplifying kind thoughts, feelings, and actions in my life allowed for ___________.
Kindness begets kindness. The soothing fire to rest beside is waiting for you. May we all enjoy the warmth of the fire from being kind to one another and ourselves.