Hindsight 2020: How Will Our Children Remember COVID-19?

“If you can control your behavior when everything around you is out of control, you can model for your children a valuable lesson in patience and understanding…and snatch an opportunity to shape character.” (Jane Clayson Johnson)

When you were a child or adolescent, were there momentous historical events that altered your life and shaped who you ultimately became?

For me, it was the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and also the war in Vietnam. For my parents, it was the Great Depression and World War II. For other generations, the 9/11 attacks or Hurricane Katrina may have etched permanent impressions.

The noteworthy historical event for today’s children or grandchildren could well be the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ll remember it not just as that year schools closed and we stayed home a lot, but also for the way we as individuals and as a nation responded to adversity.

Will they tell their own children and grandchildren stories of scuffles over toilet paper, of hoarding and profiteering, of finger-pointing at people of different nationalities? Will they recount the politicization of life-saving, common-sense measures? Or will they describe how, even in isolation, people found ways to connect with and support one another? How neighbor checked on neighbor, shared provisions, and made sure that those who were most vulnerable were not overlooked. Continue reading

Go Out and Make Some Memories

“Kindness causes us to learn, and to forget, many things” (Anne-Sophie Swetchine)

I’ve always been fascinated by memory. How my husband remembers incidents I don’t recall at all, how I’ll remember something that is completely absent in his memory, and how we may both remember an episode from our shared past, but remember it so differently that we question the other’s sanity.

As I age, I wonder why I still recall embarrassing moments from grade school, but don’t remember why I got up from my desk and walked into the kitchen.

Scientists are always sharing new bits of information about memory. So, of course, I sat up and took notice when I saw a new study showing that we are made happier and healthier by recalling our own acts of kindness.

Researchers from the University of California, Riverside, conducted a three-day experiment in which they randomly assigned undergraduates to one of four tasks: 1) performing acts of kindness; 2) recalling acts of kindness they had performed in the past; 3) both performing and recalling acts of kindness; and 4) neither performing nor recalling acts of kindness.

Their findings revealed that study participants in groups 1, 2, and 3 all reported an increase in their well-being: greater life satisfaction and positive feelings, and a decrease in negative feelings. It didn’t matter whether they performed acts of kindness, recalled acts of kindness, or did both—all experienced the same level of enduring and stable happiness and satisfaction. Continue reading

Sharing Your Cup of Kindness…

“We scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested…. Here is the exercise: find one wholly unexpected kind thing to do tomorrow and just do it. Notice what happens to your mood.” (Martin Seligman)

Attribution: Donna CameronThe holiday season can be stressful. It’s a time when another year is hurtling toward its close—often reminding us of unmet goals and the swift passage of time. It’s also a time when expectations and obligations collide with excess, and unless we’ve learned to set reasonable boundaries, stress is often the result.

Multiple recent studies show that one great way to counter stress is to spread some kindness. Research by Elizabeth Raposa, Holly Laws, and Emily Ansell, from the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University’s School of Medicine, showed that when people extend small acts of kindness, such as holding a door, offering assistance, or waving a car into a line of traffic, they experience less stress than on days when they don’t perform these small kindnesses.

The aim isn’t to be the kindest person in the room, it’s to be the kindest version of yourself. Continue reading

What Keeps Us from Being Kind?

“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded … sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.” (George Saunders)

I’ve had a lot of opportunities over the last year to talk with groups about kindness. One of the questions I’m often asked is, “Why is it so hard? . . . . Why is something obviously desirable and seemingly easy sometimes so difficult to actually do?”

I generally respond by describing the typical barriers to our kindness, the first of which is fear. And fear comes in many flavors: Fear of having our kindness rejected or misunderstood, fear of doing it wrong, fear of drawing attention to ourselves and causing embarrassment. Beyond fear, we may not know the right thing to do, or we claim not to have time, or we’re often simply oblivious.

Our brains can find any number of reasons for not doing something that may cross our minds as an impulse or notion. Continue reading

Kindness in the Face of Pure Evil

“There are two ways of exerting one’s strength; one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.” (Booker T. Washington)

Attribution: Donna CameronA friend asked me to comment on how to apply kindness in the wake of the New Zealand shooting. Unspoken in her question may have been the implication that kindness seems awfully puny in the face of pure and undiluted evil.

Sometimes it feels that way.

When something horrific like this happens, we feel shock, sorrow, and anger. We feel bewilderment and a helplessness bordering on hopelessness. And, for many of us, the “Groundhog Day” repetition of mass shootings sickens beyond words. What possible good is kindness when hate is so heavily-armed? Continue reading