Guest Post: Julie Buchwald on Kindness

My dear friend Julie Buchwald was kind enough to do a “Guest Post” for the blog, which is so insightful and an amazing read. Enjoy!

“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and that the blind can see…”

I try to live life in a way that involves what I like to call a “generosity of spirit.”  What does this really mean?  I have noted that I am happier the more generous I am and the less fixated I am on myself.  And when I think about why Wendy’s #imkinderthanthat campaign has caught on so fervently for so many people, I note that there is a cumulative domino effect that is happening here.  And it’s this cumulative effect that cultivates a mass generosity of spirit.

Arguably, since Wendy has been engaged in this project, I would put money on the idea that she is happier because of it – happier because she is engaged with doing kind things for others, and because others are, in turn, doing kind things both for themselves and other people as well.  It just keeps going and going… more and more kindness leads to more and more generosity, and better, more enriched lives.  More small acts of goodwill and more #imkinderthanthat T-shirts too.

Various research, in fact, does promote a critical connection between kindness and happiness – that doing unto others in a positive way can, indeed, also help to improve your own levels of health, sense of wellbeing, and ultimately happiness.

I picked up a magazine around the start of the New Year entitled “The Secret of Happiness,” because I am always interested in reading about this stuff and learning about how we can collectively create a more empathetic and more evolved society.  An entire segment of the magazine is devoted to what is referred to as “The Kindness Connection.”  Some of that research can be summarized as follows:

  1. We are hard wired for kindness and compassion. These qualities are said to be fundamental to our survival as a species.

Think about that for a second.  Our mere survival depends on kindness.  In my mind, you don’t have to look too far to find examples of a world where we benefit from kindness, and examples of a world where plain old mean-spiritedness and hate take precedence.  To me, one version of the world is so morally superior than the other.  I believe there is a built-in societal element that effectively functions to weed out those who are not kind and – eventually, most of the time – send them out to pasture.  Or if we aren’t able to take some sort of societal action, I believe karma has a way of handling these unkind and evil elements.

But bottom line and regardless of evolution, how do we cultivate more kindness, and therefore, more happiness in our lives?

  1. The answer is in our predisposition to be giving and generous toward others, which makes us healthier and more satisfied humans ourselves.

According to a University of Zurich study, participants were asked to either spend money on others or on themselves.  The givers had significantly higher levels of self-reported happiness compared to those who were not as generous.  In another survey of 4,582 adults, 68% of those who engaged in volunteer activities (about 100 hours per year) reported that doing such volunteer work made them physically healthier, 92% said it enriched their sense of purpose, 89% said it improved their well-being, 73% said it lowered stress, and 77% said it improved their physical health.

Additional research shows that kindness can also help improve signs of depression, anxiety, and social isolation in teens; improve body image; and even strengthen romantic relationships.

  1. Ultimately, it is not enough to have the intent to be kind or self-perpetuating thoughts about kindness. To create the kindness/happiness connection, there must be some action taken to further that intention.  Massachusetts Ph.D. Tara Cousineau notes that kindness can be described as “Love in action… kindness is both a quality of loving presence and an orientation to life that is intentional and active.”

Bottom line, if you want to experience the full benefits of kindness as a virtue in your life, there needs to be some sort of intent behind your actions.  Or as another way of saying it, we need to engage in acts that are both kind to others and that can deepen the full range of positive emotions for ourselves, if we want to benefit as much as possible.

I like this concept of kindness as love in action.  Because that matches my belief about the utility of kindness as something that can actually change the world.  I think it’s only if your actions match your intent and what is in your heart that the happiness connection can even have a chance.  Bottom line… the key to being a happier person yourself is enhancing the happiness of those around you everyday through how you act.  This will double or triple your own happiness levels.  It’s only if you satisfy this secondary element of being kind toward others through specific actions that the multiplier happiness effect can occur.

Some examples of simple, kind acts, courtesy of the Happiness magazine:

  1. Smile at others.
  2. Say, “I love you,” offer a hug, or give a high-five.
  3. Clean up the dirty dishes in the sink, even if they’re not yours.
  4. Buy a cup of coffee, or pay a toll for the person in back of you.
  5. Compliment three people in a day – it will improve your own attitude.
  6. Phone a friend instead of sending a text – old school can be more meaningful.
  7. Donate to a cause and let others know you did; generosity can be contagious.
  8. Talk to a homeless person or someone completely outside your usual circle.
  9. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, food bank, or for another cause important to you.
  10. Pick up trash on your street and in your neighborhood.

If you start with a few, small, yet meaningful gestures, you will be on your way toward love in action, and, in turn, on your way to changing the world.

Wendy, we all know that where kindness is concerned, your multiplier effect has taken off like a rocket ship to the moon.  May we all strive to be as kind as you.  In good health and happiness,… three cheers for all the kind you are perpetuating in the world!

Owning Your (Un)Kindness

I have been thinking lately about what it means to own your kindness (and unkindness). When we do something kind we hope that it will be recognized and admired. When we are unkind we are (hopefully) ashamed and we hide it so that people don’t know that we are capable of such unkindness. But what if we owned all of our “kindness” –  the good and the bad?

Owning your kindness is easy. Being nice or helping someone else makes us feel good about ourselves. It’s taking responsibility when you’re unkind that is challenging. Human beings are not nice some times. That’s ok, it happens. Owning that unkindness and turning it into something positive is what we should all strive for. Recognizing that your behavior or thoughts are unkind is the first step. This can be as simple as realizing when you’re making a judgement about someone. We are humans, and we are making assumptions and judgements about other people every day. But what if we took those thoughts and turned them into something positive?

Here’s an idea. Next time you find yourself making a judgement or having an unkind thought about someone…STOP. What if in that moment when you catch yourself, you think about that person in a kinder way, and you find something positive about them. That’s it. Done. You have owned your (un)kindness, and in turn, found the kindness in it. You can honestly say “I’m kinder than that”.

Today…this is what I ask of you, my friends. OWN your kindness…AND your unkindness. Change your thought process. Turn your judgements into kindness. Make an idea an action. Be Kinder Than That.

Happy (c’mon you can do it) Holidays

The holidays can be tough. There is so much to do, places to go, people to please, and all the while trying to stay in the “holiday spirit”. Being kind this time of year can be a serious challenge. That’s why I have been REALLY trying to remember the #imkinderthanthat mantra. There are little things you can do to help others AND yourself during what can be an incredibly stressful time.

Here are a few things I have been doing to alleviate my own stress and make me feel like I am taking the kinder route (even if I want to tear my hair out because I am so annoyed by people):

  1. Letting someone go in front of you in line. When you see someone with just a few things or someone is clearly stressed out, letting them move one spot up in line can make all the difference. And honestly, it’s really not the move, it’s about the kindness that has been shown to them. Is that extra 5 minutes really going to ruin your day? And just think, it may have made theirs.
  2. Being less aggressive in the car. I am a very aggressive driver, and I am so easily agitated by people in the car. The holidays just seems to magnify that. Allowing someone to “cut in” or stopping to let someone pull out of a driveway or street may be the kindest thing you do that day. Maybe they are late for their kids Christmas show or trying to get the to airport to travel home to see their family…those extra minutes aren’t going to hurt you and it may help them tremendously. Trust me – I know this one isn’t easy.
  3. Be generous. Yesterday I went to Starbucks and bought ten $5 gift cards. I thought it would be nice to have them with me if I wanted to “tip” someone or if a homeless person asks me for money. I used my first one yesterday at the office, when the security guard that I see every morning went out of her way to get me some information that I had asked for. She was SUPER appreciative. Her surprise and gratitude was worth WAY more than that $5 I had spent. For $50 I will be able to show TEN people appreciation and kindness…seems like a small price to pay. If you are on a budget, as this time of year money can be very tight,  just SAYING thank you to the person who is helping you and letting them know how much what they have done means to you will make just as much of a difference. Generosity isn’t about money…it’s about kindness.
  4. Wishing people “Happy Holidays”. It doesn’t matter what you celebrate this time of year – it is still the holidays. When you wish someone “Happy Holidays” it helps BOTH of you get into the holiday spirit!
  5. Listening more. This time of year can be really hard on people for a myriad of reasons. They may be missing someone that they have lost, they may not be able to be with the people they love, or the holidays may represent something traumatic in their lives. Being mindful of this, and just listening to people, whether they are complaining, grieving, or just crabby, can be the kindest thing that you can do. No need to give an opinion…just listen.

Being “kinder than that” has it’s challenges, but living it every day makes it become a part of who you are. Gratitude is synonymous with this time of year, so own your gratitude and be kind my friends. Happy Holidays!

Let’s be kind forever

I have two guest bloggers today. My niece Avery and nephew Olin (who are 6) are helping me write this post today. Here is what they have to say.

It’s nice to be nice, so let the world be kind. All around the world, China, Russia, Japan, England, France, United States, Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, and Antartica, let them all be kind. We don’t have to include the North Pole, because Santa is already kind.

I asked them why they should be kind and here is what they had to say. Avery said, “Because it is nice to be kind and it’s helpful and good and healthy.” Olin’s answer was, “It’s nice to be kind because then you get Christmas presents. If you’re mean you go on the BB&G (bad boys & girls) list. So be kind and you’ll get presents.”

The both agreed that if you don’t want to fight anyone then let’s just be kind so there are no fights. If EVERYONE is kind then good things will always happen.

I also asked them what they can do to make the world a kinder place. Avery told me that she will be kind to everybody, even if they aren’t kind to her. Olin said that he will make the world a kinder place by “giving everyone presents”.

Their final thought – let everyone in the world be kind!

Mean is bad. Kind is good.

In the last few days there have been two tragic stories of bullying and suicide that have been particularly hard to swallow (not that any are easy). Two young girls (10 and 13 years old), both hung themselves after being relentlessly bullied at school. Where does the system break down so completely that we adults can’t stop such things from happening?  Statistics show that 1 in 3 students report being bullied during the school year. ONE IN THREE. That is insanity. I started looking at the statistics about bullying and cyberbullying and the information is staggering. When I was a teacher there was absolutely NO BULLYING allowed in my classroom. We had three simple rules on the wall. Take Responsibility for your actions. Tell the truth. Be kind. To be honest with you, for the ten years that I taught, I was less concerned about the ABC’s and more concerned about my students becoming good people. I saw it as my responsibility to make them better human beings. Here is the thing…kids can be mean. Really mean. But that’s no excuse. They don’t have to be. Unless children are taught that it’s not acceptable to be mean, they will keep doing it. Parents, teachers and pretty much every adult that they have contact with has to be consistent in their message. Mean is bad. Kind is good. Unfortunately lots of adults are unkind…and the world we currently live in isn’t helping the situation. Being taught from a young age that kindness is always the answer would change the world we live in. That’s why I am dedicated to putting the #imkinderthanthat message out into the world. Teaching kids (and reminding adults) that you have a choice in how you treat people and how you react to a situation is such an important lesson to learn…and relearn over and over again. As my 6 year old niece Avery says, “Being kind makes you feel like a princess and being mean makes you feel like a bad witch”. We should all strive to be a princess (or prince).

Being kind to yourself

Since the #imkinderthanthat mantra has obviously been working for me when I am interacting with people (and hopefully it is working for others as well) – I recently decided to see if it could work in another way. So I have started using it on myself. Like many other people that I know, I can be REALLY hard on myself. It might be something as simple as making an error in an email that I have sent to a client to much deeper seated things like my weight. Whenever I become aware that I am being hyper-critical of myself…I stop, think about what is really going on and say “I’m kinder than that”. I believe that many people don’t realize that being unkind can extend inward and by criticizing themselves they are doing harm internally. Now that I have been doing this, I find that it is easier to forgive myself for making mistakes or not looking my best every day, because I am starting to see the value in being kind to myself, as well as others. So here is my suggestion for those of you who, like me, beat themselves up about being imperfect – be kinder than that to yourself.

The simplest thing…

Recently my mom, who is an incredibly kind-hearted person, was at the grocery store in her quaint little town in Western Massachusetts. She saw an elderly woman dressed shabbily and missing several teeth, which might deter some people from speaking to her. Not my mom. They bumped carts accidentally and my mom struck up a conversation with the woman, who turned out to be very sweet lady. My mother enjoyed their conversation a great deal, then said her goodbyes and went about shopping. Next on her list were fresh flowers (she loves to have flowers in the house). As she was standing in the floral section of the store, she decided that she would buy half the amount of flowers that she had initially wanted, and buy the woman she had been speaking to a bouquet of flowers. My mom had the florist make up a lovely arrangement, she paid for them, and then she went and found the woman who was still in the store shopping. The woman was taken aback by the gesture…truly touched. She said that no one had ever done anything like that for her before. Can you imagine – in all of her years, no one had gone out of their way to be that kind to her? My mom is the best example of how it only takes one act of kindness to make someone’s life a little bit brighter, happier, better. I try to take a page out of her book every day. It doesn’t have to be flowers…it could simply be a smile, a hello, a cup of coffee, a compliment. It’s the simplest thing to do. Be kind. #imkinderthanthat

How it began…

Being kind isn’t always easy, but it should be. When my nieces and nephew (an eight year old girl and six year old boy/girl twins) were at my house this summer, I noticed that they had a hard time always being to kind to each other. I know, shocker! Sometimes it’s hard to be nice to your siblings. I get it, I have an older brother and sister and we weren’t always kind to each other when we were growing up. Being a special education teacher early in my career made me acutely aware of how mean kids can be, especially to anyone who might be perceived as different. Kindness, honesty and personal responsibility were a HUGE part of my classroom…and my life. What I was trying to do with my nieces/nephew was to bring awareness to how often the kids were being unkind to each other, so I told them that whenever they were mean to each other they needed to say (or at least think) “I’m kinder than that”. What happened next changed MY life. The kids started using the phrase  (although I still haven’t converted the oldest)…but I was the one who was actually benefitting from it the most. Suddenly I realized how often I was annoyed by people, or judging them, or becoming aggravated by the simplest thing. Standing in line at the grocery store I would be irrationally upset with the 80 year old woman taking forever while she was writing a check – I mean, who writes checks? You know who writes checks? 80 year old women do when they are grocery shopping. And that’s absolutely ok. But I would find myself being SO irritated. THEN, I decided to start saying, “I’m kinder than that” every time something like this happened. IT TOTALLY WORKED. I would catch myself being annoyed, take a breath, and say “I’m kinder than that”.  I would remember (like with the woman at the grocery store) that I have older parents and I’d try to understand where she was coming from…which would be a time where you wrote a check for your groceries. I started having these epiphanies all over the place. I came to the conclusion that it isn’t always about ME, MY TIME and MY OPINION. I would be walking down the street and think “look at that awful dress” on a random person, and then a light bulb would go off and I’d think,  “Im kinder than that”. I would ask myself, “who am I to judge that dress?” Most frequently I would catch myself needing to say it in the car, where I am in a constant state of aggravation, and being much more relaxed behind the wheel (which isn’t easy to do in LA and SF). In the last several months I have become a much kinder person…because I take notice of when I am NOT being kind and I own it (which I didn’t do before). Giving people compliments, understanding that just because someone has a different opinion doesn’t make them a BAD person, and being an overall nicer version of myself is really refreshing. I wake up in the morning and think that every day is chance to be kinder. #imkinderthanthat