The World-Changing Power of Kindness

Photo: Heath Brandon/Flickr.

Tucked away in positive psychology’s list of character strengths is one, little gentle one that, when applied, has the power to improve your day, build healthier relationships, slow aging, improve heart functioning, and make people happy.  That’s what the research shows about kindness.

But the positive power of kindness is even wider and deeper than that.  Embracing, as it does, our inborn empathy for one another, our compassion for suffering, and our longing to contribute in some, small way to the well-being of others, kindness speaks of the best in us.

It’s a quality so profound that the Dalai Lama even named it as the basis for his entire belief system.  “This is my simple religion,” he said; “There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophy.  Our own brain, our heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

Mark Twain said, “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear, and the blind can read.”   It’s a universal language that speaks to us all.

The Contagious Nature of Kindness

One of the characteristics that positive psychology researchers have recently demonstrated about happiness is its tendency to spread among people.  Reporting on a recent study conducted by James H. Fowler and Nicholas A. Christakis, an article in Wired magazine said,  “In findings sure to gladden the heart of anyone who’s ever wondered whether tiny acts of kindness have larger consequences, researchers have shown that generosity is contagious.”

Dr. David R. Hamilton explains the contagious nature of kindness this way:

“I believe that kindness is contagious in three ways. The first is that we feel elevated when someone helps us. We’re on the crest of an emotional wave for a short time and from this state we feel inspired to help other people.

“Depending upon the situation, we might also feel relieved when someone helps us, especially if the situation we’re in is stressful. This reduces the stress or worry and we feel a surge of relief. Stress and worry often obstruct our real nature, which contains strong undercurrents of compassion and kindness. When stress goes away and is replaced with a feeling of relief, we’re more likely to act on opportunities to help others.

“The third way is that when we see someone being kind, something inside tells us that this is what we should be doing and so we are inspired by the observation of another’s kind behaviour. This is called social contagion.”

As Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip said, “Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness  Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”

We do ourselves good with kindnesses given as well.  Acts of kindness increase the happiness of both the person who does the kindness and the recipient of the act.

How to Increase Your Kindness Quotient

You can increase the amount of kindness you spread by simply setting an intention to be kind.  Opportunities to help others are everywhere.

You can find a wonderful list of ways to be kind at Random Acts of Kindness if you need some inspiration.

And here’s a description of a kindness activity from Positive Psych. Webs that you can try out just to see how expressing more kindness impacts your own life:

Perform a new act of kindness each day for a week. Create a list of potential acts of kindness you can do. Use this as a guide but feel free to change it as long as you do a new and different act each day. Reflect upon how you feel after doing each act of kindness and the reaction of the receiver, if applicable.

Note: research has found that the good feelings produced by doing acts of kindness actually last longer if you do all 5 acts in one day rather than spread out throughout the week. (If you do only one a day, it may start to feel like a chore.) Try it both ways and see if this makes a difference for you.

What science is finally confirming is wisdom that, in our hearts, we’ve always known.  Way back in the 4th Century, Saint Basil, Bishop of Cesarea, said, “A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”

Put the power of kindness to work in your life, beginning right now.

One way to do that would be to pass this article along to your friends.  Do share!

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You may also enjoy: Self-Compassion: Being Your Own Best Friend  – how to be kind to you.

Photo: Heath Brandon/Flickr.


Raging Positivity: How to Be Happy Through and Through

So you want to be happy? Here’s the deal. You have to jump into the ocean of positivity with body, heart and soul.

Girl Splashing in SeaSo you want to be happy?  Here’s the deal.  You have to jump into the ocean of positivity with body, heart and soul.  You can’t just walk to the edge and stick your toe in.  You need to let yourself sink down to the very depths of positivity’s seas.  You have to be willing to reek of it, to have it smeared on your face for all the world to see.

You have to immerse yourself in it.  Let it become the air you breathe.

Watch movies that move you, that make you laugh, that inspire you to be the very best you can be.

Read inspiring stores about people who did great things.  Read stories that make you laugh, that touch you with their beauty.  Then share them with someone you love.

Keep asking yourself, “What’s the best thing about this very moment?  What else?  What else?”

When you look at the past, dig up the juiciest, warmest, most love-drenched, fun-drenched memories.  Wallow in the good times, in the friendships, the achievements.  Remember your favorite pet, your first kiss, your best vacation, the most meaningful holiday.

When you look toward the future, ten minutes from now or ten years, imagine your very best self living out your best dreams.

When you think about the people in your life, picture them smiling.  Picture them laughing.  Picture them looking at you with eyes full of light and love.

When you get up in the morning, expect that the day ahead will be fabulous.

When you’re shaving, be glad for the razor.  Or if you’re putting on makeup, be glad for the blush.

When you’re showering, be glad for soap and running water.  Thank your body parts for being as strong and healthy as they are.  Thank your skin for containing you, for giving your mind a center of focus.

Every time you look in the mirror, smile at yourself—the bigger the grin, the better.  If you see a grump looking back at you, stick out your tongue, scrunch up your nose, stick your thumbs in your ears and wiggle your fingers until you can laugh—or at least wink at yourself.

Thank the air for moving in and out of your lungs.  Send love out on your exhales and picture its molecules being breathed in by some poor bloke in Bangladesh or Mexico who needs a whiff of It’s Okay.

What Else? What Else?

Take your mind on circles around the globe.  Think of all its beauties and wonders.
Look at the sky.  Think about how infinite it is.  Think about all the pictures you’ve seen from the Hubble–the galaxies and nebulae, the countless swirling stars. All that stuff is really out there!  Think about how big it all is and be happy you have a brain that knows that.

Think about cells, about molecules and atoms and nanoparticles, all doing their quantum dances in some mysterious realm, and you, made of them.  Feed them right.  Take them for walks.  Give them enough sleep.

Think about all the life forms on the planet:  I heard on the radio this morning that 88,000 species of living things share this little globe with us.  The mammals, the reptiles, the insects, the fishes, the birds; the trees and grasses and flowers, the vegetables and fruits.  Wonder how it all got here.   Be amazed by life.

Check out the things around you and think about all the people who had to do their menial boring everyday jobs just to get them to you: the ones who harvested the raw materials, the ones who designed the product, the factory workers who pushed the buttons to add the ingredients and shape it, the ones who designed and built the conveyor belts to keep it moving, the ones who made the packaging, the accountants who kept the trucking company going, the truckers, the ones who built the road, the warehouse men and everybody who built the warehouse, and the clerks who got the item in your hands, the CEOs who coordinated it all and found the financing.  Think how amazing it is that it all works the way it does.  Think about how you live in the middle of an enormous freaking miracle.

Be grateful.  Be kind.  Tell people good news. It’s hard, living here on planet earth.  Help other people; pay attention to them.  Flash them a smile.  Show them compassion for them.  If they knew how to be any better, they would be.  We’re all doing the best that we can.

Try to stay awake.  Pay attention to your senses: they’re forever bringing you joy. Color, light, sound, texture, weight, motion, fragrance.  All for you!

As you fall asleep, think about the incredible richness of your day, think about the goodness your experienced, about the love that you gave and received.

Chant “Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!” endlessly.

That’s what you have to do: Go for it all the way.  Let positivity possess you.  Hold back nothing.  And it will hold nothing back from you.


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Who’s Driving Your Happiness Bus?

Happy Bus Driver

“Everybody talks about the weather,” an old saying goes, “But nobody does anything about it.”  You know what?  You could apply that saying to happiness, too.  Everybody says they want to be happier, but when it comes right down to making it a reality in our lives, few of us actually take the matter into our own hands and get busy about it.

The difference between weather and happiness is that there’s nothing you can do about weather except prepare to meet it as it comes.  You can, however, learn to be happier, because, to a great extent, happiness is a skill.

Learning to Drive

That’s right.  It’s a skill, just like learning to drive.  I know you’ve heard that it’s a choice.  But I have to confess that I’m annoyed when people glibly say so, as if you could flick a magic switch somewhere inside you and suddenly beam with 100 watts of joy.

The fact is that learning to be happier involves a whole series of choices that we make, learned behaviors that we do over and over and over.  That’s what researchers Rick Foster and Greg Hicks discovered in three-years of interviewing extremely happy people.

Happiness takes dedication, a commitment, and every day practice.  I won’t kid you: learning to be happier is work.  No worthwhile skill is mastered over night.  But if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and do it, the rewards are worth every ounce of effort you invest.

Is Happiness What You Want?

So let me ask you: Do you want to be happier?  What would it be like to feel more enthusiasm in your life?  How do you think it would impact your relationships, your work, your day to day experience of life is you were able to feel more peace, more gratitude, more hope, more awe, more engagement, more satisfaction, more joy and delight?

All of those feelings are varieties of happiness.  And you really can have more of them.  You can learn to access them more frequently and on increasingly deeper levels, in ways that are meaningful to you.  And that, my friend, is a scientific fact.

Making Happiness Your Prime Directive

The first step is to answer the question I just posed:  Do you really want to be happier?  If your answer is yes, the way to begin is to make living happily your Prime Directive, your core, motivating intention.

That’s central. According to Foster and Hicks, the intention to be happy is the foundation on which all happy people build.  They make the conscious decision to commit themselves to living a rich, positive life.

Taking the Wheel

The next step is where the work begins.  You have to recognize that you alone are driving the bus, and you alone are responsible for keeping it on the road.

But this is where you start to get the rewards, too.  That’s the cool thing about working to live a more positive life: the paybacks are immediate.

It feels empowering to take responsibility for the quality of your own life, to acknowledge that no one is in control of your sense of well-being except you.  Just as intention sets the direction for your journey, responsibility fuels it.  And the more practice you get at steering your life toward greater joy and satisfaction, the more self-trust and self-respect you develop.  It’s both freeing and calming to know that you alone are in control.

Dealing with Detours and Rough Roads

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to be in charge.  Life is full of challenges; it can be a truly difficult get cymbalta free place sometimes.  We have accidents, we get damaged, we have to drive through fog and night and storms, to deal with bad or careless drivers, with unexpected detours and rough roads.

The positivity bus doesn’t come equipped with autopilot.  Happiness isn’t a matter of flicking a switch.  It requires awareness, and sometimes great strength and grit.

That’s why it’s important to be 100% clear on your Prime Directive.

The good news is that the rough spots grow fewer and fewer as you go along and your skills lexapro order online uk for handling them increase with every mile you travel.  With every mile, the scenery grows more beautiful, and your fellow travelers increasingly become the most helpful and agreeable companions.

You have everything you need to get where you’re going.  The key is to stay awake and aware.  If you’re lost, a thousand maps are out there to help you find your way.  Study the ones that make the most sense to you.  Ask directions if you need them; call a road crew if you’re really stuck.

Meanwhile, just remember where you’re headed, keep your windshield clean, your hands on the wheel, and have a great trip.




Authenticity, the Hero's Journey

At its heart, positivity is living in alignment with your unique set of personal values. It’s about telling yourself the truth, about recognizing where you’re pretending and then making different choices in those areas of your life.

Disappointed WomanMy friend was telling me about her failed marriage.  “I knew from the beginning that I was making a mistake,” she said.  “I remember standing at the altar in my wedding dress thinking I really shouldn’t be doing this.  But it just seemed too late to change my mind.”

All of us have made painful mistakes somewhere along the line, knowing at the time that they were wrong for us, and yet feeling too pressured, confused or weak to say no. We get so busy tap dancing to the expectations of others that our own music gets drowned out, so wrapped up in the roles we’re playing that we forget who we really are.

The mistakes we make because we have lost sight of our own authenticity bring pain.  But like all mistakes, they bring opportunities for self-discovery, too.

As my friend Cristina Diaz recently said on her Face Book page, “Pain is a great mechanism to help us pay attention, to say ‘I don’t want anymore of darkness, what I want is light.’  The hero’s journey would be no journey if there were no problems.”

Striving for the Light

Authenticity is what the hero’s journey is all about.  The light that you, as the hero of your own story, are looking for is the light of your own truth.  It’s the truth that’s uniquely yours, made from your particular buy ventolin over counter uk set of genes and experiences, your values, tastes and preferences, your dislikes and judgments, your longings and desires.   Your truth is what is real for you.

The hero’s quest is the quest for positive living – for committing to being the best you can be and to accepting total responsibility for your choices.  It’s about being honest with yourself about what truly brings you satisfaction, meaning and joy and then choosing the things that move you in that direction.

It takes courage to live authentically, to pursue your own truth and to live it even when it’s contrary to the way everyone else around you is living.  Committing to positivity, deciding that genuine happiness is your number one priority, helps you generate that courage.  Not only does the practice of positive living lead you to a more sensitive recognition of which choices are right for you and which are wrong, it also rewards you with genuine joy as you move in increasing harmony with your own genuine nature.

Spotting the Not-Me

At its heart, positivity is living in alignment with your unique set of personal values.    It’s about telling yourself the truth, about recognizing where you’re pretending and then making different choices in those areas of your life.  The more you practice living in accord with your values, the more natural living authentically becomes.  That’s why values expressed through action are called personal strengths.

Monopoly MoneySomebody once told me that when you work in a bank, they never let you handle counterfeit money, only the real stuff.  The paper the real stuff is printed on has a certain quality to it, a certain feel.  It’s made of different materials than counterfeit bills.  So when you run across the fake money, your fingertips can tell that it’s not the real thing.

That’s what living authentically is like.  If you’re immersed in the high-value stuff, you sense the counterfeit right away.  Some part of you that’s as sensitive as your fingertips says, “Hey! Something’s not right here.”  And you start looking for what’s amiss.

We all have areas of our lives where we’re pretending to be something that we’re not.  We pretend we’re on a diet, but the truth is we’re sneaking Twinkies when nobody’s watching.  We pretend we’re hard workers when we’re mainly goofing off.  We pretend we’re being faithful.  We’re pretending to be happy.  We’re pretending we’re in favor of an idea that we don’t find appealing at all.

These are the places of darkness.  These are the sources of pain that gnaw away at our vitality, that dull our lives and steal our joy.  They sap our energy and confuse us and keep us from being all that we can, and long to, be.

The Choice for Happiness

Positivity helps you build the kind of strong, joy-based character that can turn away from those kinds of situations before you’re in so deeply that you’re overwhelmed.  When you’re grounded in the values you most deeply cherish, good boundaries naturally develop between the things that are right for you and the things that aren’t.

As you move toward living more and more in harmony with your values, your senses of purpose and of direction grow keener.  You develop the sensitivity to spot the “not-me” feelings inside yourself almost instantly, so you can say no to choices that aren’t in harmony with your true self.  You grow more honest with yourself, and your commitment to self-honesty produces such a sense of wholeness that to breach it becomes unbearably painful.

The best part is that the “work” involved in building more positivity into your life doesn’t feel like work at all.  Oh sure, you have to exert yourself to build some new habits and to let go of some old ones.  But the rewards are so delicious and satisfying that the effort is easy to make.

It all starts with deciding to be kind enough to yourself to make happiness your number one priority, your central intention and goal.  That’s the first step in your hero’s journey: commit to the light, to the truth of your own being and to living in harmony with it. Decide to master it.  It will grow you, and free you, and ultimately, lead you home—to the true self that you were meant to be.


Happiness and the Dream Machine

Out of all the possibilities before you, chose the one that tastes like fun, that jolts your heart with a little more fierce.

The Dream MachineFollow your purpose.  Follow your bliss.  Follow your dream, they say.  But here you sit, up to your elbows in ordinary, with no ideas at all.

“My dream?” you say.  “My dream? What is my dream?”  If you don’t know it, let me whisper:  It is to be happy.  Choose that.    Make it the focus of your life.  Put it center stage and let it steal the show.

“But how?” you ask.  “How?”  That’s for you to say.  Make your space more beautiful: Pick up your socks; clean something; make a repair.  Make yourself the unofficial world greeter:  Go be kind to someone; engage someone in conversation; walk down the street whistling; pass out smiles.  Take fifteen or an hour with a good book or a hobby.  Visit a gallery or museum.  Get out your crayons.  Go for a run.  Put on some music and dance.  It’s up to you.

The thing is to listen for that little buzz, that little ding, the thing that makes you go “Hmmmm” or “Oh! Yeah!” and then do it.  Every minute.  All the time.  Sink into the present.  See what’s there.

Out of all the possibilities before you, all the turns you could make right now, chose the one that tastes like fun, that gets your molecules dancing, that makes your blood race a tad warmer through your veins and jolts your heart with a little more fierce.

Keep doing that and the dream machine will learn it can trust you. Before you know it, it pops a big one your way.

The Freedom Skater

Take Austin Szelkowski, for instance.  He’s just out of college in a state with no jobs, working as a waiter, up to his ears in student loans.  But he keeps doing what he loves, encouraging people to follow their dreams and live bold and free.

Then one day the dream machine lands this one on him:  Austin, it says, what if you roller bladed across America, carrying a big flag, and stopped all along the way to speak your message?

Right now, Austin’s buy celebrex usa 233 miles into his dream.  Go check out his website.  See what he says about choices, and daring, and living free.  This guy’s got positivity locked, I tell you.

Juice Right Now

Man Atop MountainNow maybe you don’t have a big dream.  Maybe yours are quieter, cozier dreams.  Maybe just finding the courage to get out of bed is all that you can handle.  That’s cool.  Pat yourself on the back for getting out of bed then.  See if it doesn’t give you the strength to take a step or two.  And when you make it all the way to a mirror, smile at you.  Give order tramadol with cod yourself a wink.  Say to yourself, “I’m going to have a beautiful day.”

That’s the point, see?  Let today be beautiful for you.  Find the juice right now holds.  Every day, you make happiness your focus, you put it center stage and let it dance.  You listen for the hum.  You listen for the buzz and follow it.  Do that, and before long you’ll find yourself humming, too.

“Life is good,” you’ll say.  “Life is good.”  And the dream machine will mark that down and keep feeding you bigger dreams.  Just watch.  You’ll see.