“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
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” (Steve Jobs)
It’s no secret that our relationship with time changes as we age. When we’re children, time seems expansive, sprawling. Summer vacation is vast; the span between Labor Day and Christmas feels interminable. It takes forever for that special event we’ve been anticipating to finally arrive.
A few decades later, time turns on us. The seasons fly by. Birthdays accumulate like dead leaves in autumn, and instead of savoring time, we just want to slow it down.
It’s not our imaginations. Time really is perceived differently by children and adults. One reason is simply the obvious: as we age, each year is a smaller percentage of our life. When you’re ten, a year is ten percent of your lifetime; but when you’re 60, it’s less than two percent.
But there’s more to it than that. Continue reading
“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)
The 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
“The secret of living well is not in having all the answers, but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.” (Rachel Naomi Remen, MD)
Since publication of A Year of Living Kindly last fall, I’ve had numerous opportunities to talk with groups about kindness. What an immense privilege! People aren’t shy about sharing their own stories of kindness, and the questions they ask are nearly always wise and perceptive. It’s like that with blogging, too—your comments invite me to see a different perspective, or sometimes they make me think a bit more deeply about my topic. And sometimes you make me laugh when I need it most.
I’ve noticed that often the same question will come up in talks and on the blog at almost the same time. It may just be coincidence, but it may also be triggered by a current event or a high-profile news story.
Recently, one question has surfaced repeatedly. The wording may have been different, but the meaning the same:
- “Why should I be kind to unkind people?”
- “Isn’t treating a jerk with kindness just rewarding him for being a jerk?”
- “Does everybody deserve our kindness?”
Such a provocative question: does everybody deserve our kindness? Continue reading
“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