What We Want Most for Our Kids

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” (L.R. Knost)

Cherry Tree at Storm LakeI can remember my mother saying that what she wanted most for her daughters was that they be happy. I think she hoped that we’d figure out on our own how to do that, since it was a state she achieved only rarely, and was therefore unlikely to show us the way.

She said it often enough that I did spend some time pondering happiness as I was growing up. I never equated happiness with wealth or accumulation. I had a pretty strong notion that happiness wasn’t a goal in itself, but more the byproduct of doing what I loved in the company of people I respected and cared about. College and career taught me that happiness resulted when I could explore new ideas, meet challenges, problem-solve, create satisfying results, and improve the world in some small way—again, in the company of good people.

It took me a while, but I’ve finally come to learn that the most direct route to happiness is kindness. When I experience kindness, I am happy. It really is as simple as that. If I extend a kindness, it makes me happy. If I am on the receiving end of kindness, it makes me happy. And if I witness kindness, or even read about it, it makes me happy.

And the research bears this out. In recent years, there have been numerous studies linking kindness and happiness: A study by researchers Kathryn E. Buchanan and Anat Bardi, published in the Journal of Social Psychology concluded that performing acts of kindness resulted in increased life satisfaction. The “Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey,” overseen by researchers from Harvard University, indicates that those who gave contributions of time or money were “42 percent more likely to be happy” than those who didn’t.

Similarly, research by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside, shows that acts of kindness boost happiness. She cites a recent study that showedwhen 9- to 11-year old kids were asked to do acts of kindness for several weeks, not only did they get happier over time but they became more popular with their peers.” Another of her research projects showed that asking employees to be generous to a randomly chosen list of colleagues increased happiness, connectedness, flow, and decreased depression—not just for the givers, but for the recipients, and even for people who merely witnessed the generosity. Once again, the power of kindness knows no bounds!

I wish my mother had known that, but then I also realize that it’s something each of us has to discover for ourselves.

I came across an article not too long ago that summarized a research study conducted by Forum Research at the behest of the Toronto Star. It asked parents and grandparents the most important values they hoped to instill in their children and grandchildren. Kindness, I am happy to report, was the number one value these folks hoped to pass on to children. Thirty percent of respondents rated kindness at the top. Number two was a good work ethic, at 25%. Much lower on the list were ambition (8%), leadership (7%), curiosity (5%), courage (5%), and teamwork (4%).

There is an inherent problem with polls such as this: none of these values exists alone. Kindness requires courage, it also requires curiosity; a good work ethic goes hand-in-hand with leadership and teamwork. Asking people to choose one among such interconnected values is misleading. Nonetheless, I am pleased to see the recognition people have for the importance of kindness, and I hope that parents and grandparents will not only wish it for their kids, but also model it.

How to Raise Kids to Be Kind

Adults who want their kids to learn kindness must realize that such instruction begins at home: in how they see their parents and grandparents treat one another, treat friends, kids, strangers, animals, and even the earth. There are no better mimics than children—what they see, they will imitate. They are also smart enough to recognize that a value not practiced consistently is not a value at all.

Kindness must be evident always, not just when it’s easy. They need to see that their parents will be kind behind the wheel even when other drivers are behaving like jet-propelled morons. They need to see kindness at a crowded sporting event when the beloved home-team is taking a thorough drubbing; and when one is conversing with someone whose views are diametrically opposed to their own; and in the privacy of home when talking about a difficult neighbor, work colleague, or relative.

Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd, who directs the University’s Making Caring Common project, identified five ways to raise children to truly value kindness:

  • Adults need to show that caring is a priority. They need to assure that their own behaviors match the messages they tell their kids. They need to walk their talk.
  • Give kids opportunities to practice caring and helpfulness, and also expressing gratitude. Kindness is a learned behavior and will be strengthened with repeated opportunities to extend oneself and feel the satisfaction of helping. Kids who learn the habit of gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate, and forgiving, as well as happy and healthy.
  • Help kids broaden their perspective and their circle of caring. The study describes this as “zooming in” and zooming out”—this means learning to recognize kindness opportunities in one’s circle of friends and family, and also to see the bigger picture of the need for kindness with strangers, the community, and even on a vaster, global scale.
  • Provide strong moral role models. Here, researchers stress the need for parents to acknowledge their own mistakes, and to listen to kids and help them understand the world and develop empathy.
  • Help kids manage destructive feelings. Feelings such as anger, shame, or envy are unavoidable—but they can be expressed in harmful ways or they can be instructive and constructive. Through conversation, parents can help kids navigate the normal emotional roller-coaster of childhood and adolescence.

Helping children to witness and experience kindness and then talking with them about kindness may be among the most potent of all parenting skills. The result is kind children, who are also happy … and who ultimately will become kind and happy adults. Heaven knows we’re gonna need ’em!

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” (James Baldwin)

Want Your Kids to Go to Harvard? Teach ‘em to Be Kind.

“All the big words—virtue, justice, truth…—are dwarfed by the greatness of kindness.” (Stephen Fry)

Memorial Hall, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, Photo: Daderot; Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Memorial Hall, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, Photo: Daderot; Source: Wikimedia Commons.

I haven’t been able to get a blog post out of my mind. I wrote about it last month. The blogger in question disparaged Hillary Clinton for her comments that we need “more love and kindness” in America. She further minimized the importance of kindness, saying love and kindness were “completely irrelevant in public life.” This last comment leaves me bewildered–where are love and kindness more relevant?

Additionally, she equated kindness with the misguided efforts of some parents, teachers, and coaches to protect kids from any disappointment by insulating them from loss or distress, giving trophies for simply showing up, and never keeping score. These actions, she says, “handicap a child for the real world where Harvard accepts only so many incoming freshman.”

I do agree with her that coddled and overprotected kids are not being prepared for the “real” world, but the insinuation that such behaviors are performed as kindness—rather than out of insecurity, ignorance, or an erroneous sense of entitlement—is where we diverge. The implication that kindness isn’t going to help a child get into the best college, or land a high-paying job after graduation is one I don’t accept.

And neither, it seems, does Harvard. Kindness and compassion have come to academia, and Harvard is leading the way. Early this year, nearly 100 leading colleges and universities—including some of the most prestigious in the nation—embarked on a program designed to overhaul the college admissions process. The program is called “Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions.” It came out of a Harvard Graduate School of Education project called “Making Caring Common” (MCC), a program designed to help educators, parents, and communities raise children who are caring, responsible to their communities, and committed to justice. Specifically, “MCC uses research and the expertise and insights of both practitioners and parents to develop effective strategies for promoting in children kindness and a commitment to the greater good, to influence the national conversation about raising and educating caring, ethical children….” Good for Harvard, and good for all the colleges and universities who are recognizing that kindness is more than a frothy concept, but a strength worth nurturing and pursuing.

The goal of Turning the Tide is to expand the focus of the admissions process from being primarily about academic and personal achievement to also include values, community engagement, and meaningful relationships. It attempts to balance the current individualistic emphasis with more attention to how students interact with their community and their surroundings.

The University of Pennsylvania was one of the universities that signed the report and pledged to engage in a two-year campaign to focus more on values in the admissions process. Penn’s Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said that signing the report demonstrates that Penn is a school that values kindness and community engagement, but he also noted that academic achievement is still a critical factor in the competitive admissions process: “You might find a student who’s the most genuine and caring person in the world, but is that going to make up for a 2.8 grade point average on a 4.0 scale? The answer at Penn is no.”

I don’t think anyone is expecting this initiative to turn these schools from elite institutions of higher education to come-one-come-all diploma factories. But if the new attention to compassion, involvement, and giving back means that high-achieving students enter college with a greater understanding and focus on social issues, inequality, diversity, and their own capacity to serve, perhaps those coveted ivy-league diplomas will be in the possession of graduates who are committed to service in the truest sense of the word.

That, after all, is why we’re here. We’re just not always very good at it. Maybe there’s hope.

“Your greatness is measured by your kindness; your education and intellect by your modesty; your ignorance is betrayed by your suspicions and prejudices, and your real caliber is measured by the consideration and tolerance you have for others.” (William J.H. Boetcker)

Raising Kind Children … by the books

“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis)

Attribution: Ness Kerton/ AusAID [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/ licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Attribution: Ness Kerton/ AusAID [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/
licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I recently came across a study that reported that kind children grow up to be the most successful adults. That’s encouraging news, but the big questions is: how do we raise kind children?

It seems to me that the most important factor is what behaviors their parents, and then other adults in their lives, model. If they see consistent kindness, they are likely to be consistently kind. If the people around them are unkind, how likely is it that they can overcome that example and become models of compassion themselves?

Another factor is surely the media they are exposed to, perhaps “bombarded by” is a more accurate description. What do they see on TV, what do they experience in online games, what do they read or have read to them?

I went on a hunt in our local library for children’s books about kindness, and I’ve spent the last week reading them every evening. So, with Friday marking the start of the holiday shopping season, I thought I’d share with you some fun kids’ books that have kindness as a theme.

One caveat: as I have mentioned before, I do not have kids, I have had virtually no contact with children in my life, and I have never entirely seen the point of them. That being said, I have high hopes that they will make a better world than we have.

When I think back on my childhood Christmases, the best gifts I got were books. One year, my parents gave me the entire set of Cherry Ames books. First in the series was Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, and there were dozens that followed (27 in all). Cherry was plucky, daring, quick-witted, and always embroiled in some mystery or adventure. The series included Cherry Ames, Flight Nurse…School Nurse…Camp Nurse…Cruise Nurse…even Department Store Nurse. I devoured them. Unlike Nancy Drew, Cherry seemed to have a brief shelf-life. Has anyone else ever read (or heard of) Cherry Ames?

Another year I got a box with the entire set of classic comic books—these were my first introduction to A Tale of Two Cities, Wuthering Heights, Ivanhoe, and countless others. One of the best things about getting books for Christmas was that I could spend the rest of the day reading, and then the rest of the Christmas vacation. It’s still my favorite thing to do on a holiday or vacation.

For Middle Grade Readers

Back to my recent bedtime reading: Most of the books I read were for little kids, but this first one would be for somewhat older kids—probably in the range of 8-12, maybe 3rd to 7th grade. Actually this book was so good, I would recommend it to any adult who wants to experience the joy of reading—and thinking—again.

Wonder 2Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, is the story of August (Auggie) Pullman, who was born with severe facial disfigurement that prevented him from going to a regular school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade, and not only is he the new kid, he’s the new kid who’s also a freak (his words). Wonder follows the challenges he faces as an ordinary kid whom no one else can see as ordinary, the effect on his family, and the responses to him of teachers, students, and their parents. Auggie is the primary narrator, but Palacio occasionally shifts perspective to other characters. She does it deftly and to great effect—this is a well-written book. Wonder is funny and warm—at times sad—and has a delightfully happy ending. This would be a great book for parents to read at the same time as their kids and have discussions around the dinner table. It would also be a great book for parents to read to think about how they would respond if Auggie were their child, or if Auggie became a classmate of their own child. It’s terrific!

Books for Little Kids

The remainder of the books I’m listing below are for much younger children. I guess you’d call them picture books. Not having any experience with kids, I’m not sure of the ideal age ranges—but I suppose if it’s a picture book, they’re going to be non-readers or at least pretty new to reading….what’s that, maybe 2-5 years old?

I will digress here to explain that age-appropriate reading was not part of my upbringing. My mother started passing her Harold Robbins, Henry Miller, and similarly adult books to me when I was about ten. I still remember the look of horror on my 6th grade teacher’s face when he asked me what I was going to write a book-report on. I told him I had just finished reading Peyton Place, and his eyes got very wide. I ended up writing the book-report on Jane Eyre. I think he gave me an “A” out of pure relief.

Zen TiesThis book was charming. In Zen Ties, Stillwater the Panda is visited by his haiku-speaking young nephew, Koo. Together with their human-children friends they enjoy summer activities and assist a “scary” elderly neighbor, who turns out to be a lovely new friend. I really liked the art in this book, and was totally captivated by the irrelevant but delightful inside cover art of pandas doing tai chi. It’s a fun story of kindness and friendship and our connections to one another. Author and Illustrator: John J. Muth

Paulie PastramiPaulie Pastrami Achieves World Peace would be an enjoyable book to read with a child. It’s silly. Paulie—something of a misfit nerd—wants to achieve world peace before he turns eight. He does it by engaging in simple acts of kindness, and eventually his father joins him and they achieve world peace together. Tolstoy it’s not, but it made me smile and would probably do the same for a little kid. It’s funny and cute, and likely to generate a good conversation about kindness. Author and Illustrator: James Proimos

Each KindnessEach Kindness was the winner of a Coretta Scott King Award and the Jane Addams Peace Award. This would be a thought-provoking book for little ones, and one that could resonate as they make their own decisions about friends and friendship. A new girl, Maya, has joined Chloe’s class, but no one wants to play with her. Chloe and her friends reject Maya’s attempts to join in, and they make fun of her strange ways and second-hand clothes. Later, when their teacher gives a lesson about kindness and asks each child to describe a kindness they have shown, Chloe is unable to think of anything. She realizes how unkind she has been to Maya, and decides she wants to be kind, but Maya has stopped coming to school and her family has moved away. The book ends with Chloe feeling regret for the opportunity she missed to be kind. This one should spark all sorts of good conversations about kindness, bullying, inclusion, and awareness of other people’s feelings. The illustrations are quite lovely. Author: Jacqueline Woodson; Illustrator: E.B. Lewis

Little BirdLittle Bird: I’m a sucker for birds. In this colorful book, a funny little man drives his truck up to a cliff’s edge and opens the back to let out a flock of diverse, strange, and beautiful birds. However, one small bird remains—afraid or unable to fly away. The man and the little bird bond. After sharing a sandwich, the man tries to teach the bird to fly—comically illustrated and with delightful results. It’s a story of friendship, caring, and mutual support. The blocky illustrations in primary colors were fun and kids would probably get some giggles, as well as a warm message. Author: Germano Zullo; Illustrator: Albertine

The Invisible BoyBrian is The Invisible Boy. As the shy and quiet boy in class, neither his classmates nor his teacher seem to ever notice him or include him in anything. When a new boy, Justin, comes to class, they befriend one another and things start to change for Brian. By the end, the two boys are accepted have made other friends, too. The illustrations in this one are engaging, especially Brian, who is drawn as small and only in blacks and greys early in the book, but as he becomes less invisible, he becomes larger and more colorful. Shy kids would find this book affirming. It also includes discussion questions that one could have with a child after reading the book together. Author: Trudy Ludwig; Illustrator: Patrice Barton

Enemy PieIn Enemy Pie, a new kid moves into town and “ruins” the summer for our unnamed hero/narrator. Dad offers to bake an “enemy pie”—guaranteed to get rid of the new boy. But there’s a catch, before enemy pie can work, our hero must spend one entire day with his enemy. So that’s what he sets out to do, and, of course, by the end of the day, the two boys are fast friends. It’s a sweet book, with endearing illustrations and a simple but important message about friendship and getting to know people before we judge them or shun them. It’s not Proust, but what 5-year-old wants Proust? Author: Derek Munson; Illustrator: Tara Calahan King

Bear In LoveSpeaking of not being Proust, Daniel Pinkwater’s Bear in Love is a cute story of a bear with a secret friend who is leaving delicious carrots and other treats for him every night. Unable to stay awake to identify the mystery creature, the bear leaves treats for it, and, of course, a friendship is formed between two very different animals. There’s no deep meaning here—just a sweet story of friendship, unexpected kindness, and sharing. You need to be outrageous and somewhat theatrical while reading this one out loud to a child. If you can do that, you—and the book—will probably be a hit. Author: Daniel Pinkwater; Illustrator: Will Hillenbrand

If any of these sound good to you, see if your local library has them (warning: they are likely to be a bit sticky), or take a chance and order from your local bookseller. Use them as an opportunity to have a conversation about kindness with the child in your life.

Are there books you’d recommend for helping kids or teens learn the importance of kindness?

If we’re ever going to have a kind world, it will be because we learned how to raise kind children. What better place to start than the books we give our children or grandchildren, or the books we read to them as we put them to bed?

Anybody know where I could rent a kid? 

“There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.” (Marcel Proust)

Choosing Our Cyber-Voices

“The true essence of humankind is kindness. There are other qualities which come from education or knowledge, but it is essential, if one wishes to be a genuine human being and impart satisfying meaning to one’s existence, to have a good heart.” (The Dalai Lama)

Troll dolls came originally from Denmark; inexplicably, they were one of the biggest toy fads of the 1960s in America.

Troll dolls came originally from Denmark; inexplicably, they were one of the biggest toy fads of the 1960s in America.

Over the summer, I wrote a few posts about bullying. I thought I was done with the subject, but one aspect of bullying I didn’t spend much time on is cyberbullying. The more I read and learn about bullying, the more I see how cyberbullying has taken bullying to new and insidious heights. I’ve been shocked to learn about the extent of it and the number of suicides and attempted suicides it has triggered—mostly in children and teens.

My friend Ann shared an excellent article with me from the Nov/Dec 2014 issue of Scientific American Mind. “Virtual Assault” describes the many ways people are bullied online or through social media, and the psychology of people who engage in such poisonous activities. It noted, interestingly, that “contrary to popular wisdom, bullies are not merely compensating for their own low self-esteem,” but often they are “perched at the top of the social hierarchy and demean others to cement their position.”

I also learned that people who engage in cyberbullying and attacking others on-line or through social media are referred to as “trolls.” It’s often up to the on-line community, says article author Elizabeth Svoboda, to establish norms and tell trolls in no uncertain terms that bullying is not acceptable. Svoboda also says one way to counter the damage of bullying is to step in and offer support to the victim. Silence isn’t golden.

The Damage Trolls Do

A front page article in the Seattle Times earlier this month addressed how Donald Trump is effectively using Twitter to outpace his Republican rivals for the presidential nomination. The article strayed from mere politics to describe how last year Trump devastated actress Kim Novak by posting a cruel tweet.

The reclusive actress—a glamorous movie star in the 1950s, now in her 80s—was convinced by friends to make a rare public appearance at the 2014 Academy Awards. As she was on stage making a presentation, Trump tweeted, “I’m having a real hard time watching. Kim should sue her plastic surgeon.”

Ms. Novak was devastated. She retreated to her Oregon home and didn’t leave for months, having fallen into a self-described “tailspin.” When she finally did comment, she called Trump a bully. Many other people expressed their disgust at his comment and he eventually backtracked. Later, he expressed regret for sending the tweet. He said, “That was done in fun, but sometimes you do things in fun and they turn out to be hurtful.” At the same time, he stood by equally unkind comments he has made about other celebrities.

It saddens me that so many Americans are supporting a person who believes sending so public and so cruel a message is “fun.” Just because you may have a “fun” thought doesn’t mean you should send it out to millions of people who, themselves, may forward it further. Words can hurt. Kindness counts.

YOLK Fights Temptation

I have to make a confession here: Ever since I learned that cyberbullies are called “trolls” and subsequently read about Trump’s cruel tweet regarding Kim Novak, I have mentally photo-shopped Donald Trump’s head onto a troll-doll, such as the one at the beginning of this post. Now, when I picture Mr. Trump that is the image I see.

I was oh, so tempted to actually photo-shop the picture that is in my head and post that on today’s blog. There’s no question that it would have been fun, and it would even convey a timely message about bullying, but it would not have been kind. I would be engaging in exactly what I am decrying. Although I am often willing to overstep political correctness for a cheap laugh, I knew I wouldn’t feel good about doing something like this. If I believe we have a responsibility to use the internet and social media for good, I can’t justify sending out an unkind image—however adorable it may be. I leave it to my readers’ imaginations.

Another Segue—But It’s All Still Connected

I recently watched a very interesting TED talk featuring Monica Lewinsky—yes, that Monica Lewinsky. Nearly 20 years after she was involved in one of the biggest scandals in modern American history, she is now an articulate and poised woman in her early 40s. She spoke movingly about her extremely high-profile humiliation in the late 1990s, about the aftermath that nearly drove her to suicide, about her decade-long silence, and her subsequent decision to take a vocal stand against cyberbullying. Many things struck me in her very candid and thought-provoking talk—I encourage you to listen for yourself—and one was extremely simple: our clicks matter.

We can change the unkindness being spread online and through social media by not clicking on it. Not clicking when we see a venomous, cruel, or provocative headline, not clicking when we encounter negative articles and message boards. It’s that simple: we manifest what we give our attention to, and if our attention is on the cruel and the crude, it will foster more of the same. Likewise, we can foster a positive and healthy cyberspace by choosing kindness, making kind comments, and taking the time to encourage rather than berate. With every click, we make a choice.

Trusting the Kindness of Others

When I started planning and setting up this blog nearly a year ago, I read a couple of books and a number of articles about blogging. I also talked to a few experienced bloggers. Out of the many pieces of excellent advice I got, there was one I chose to ignore.

Everyone said to set up the blog so I could moderate comments before they went public, or at least moderate the first comment someone makes, then, if I approve their comment, that individual is “pre-approved” for future comments. The other option was viewed as dangerous: to allow any comments to appear without an opportunity to weed out the crackpots.

WordPress is a great platform and it gives the novice blogger plenty of guidance and plenty of options. During set-up, I clicked the button that allows comments to appear without any moderation. It seemed to me if I was going to commit to kindness, I needed to trust that any readers who might visit the blog and take the time to comment would have good intent. I haven’t regretted it. I will also admit, though, that I did think that if anyone posted a rude or malicious message, it would give me an opportunity to test my kindness resolve—could I be gracious and compassionate if attacked online?

Without exception, the comments readers have made have been thoughtful, wise, and also kind. They’ve inspired me to think, sometimes to laugh, and always to feel grateful for the time commenters have taken to share their thoughts. If there are any crackpots out there, I haven’t encountered them (okay, maybe my husband, but being a crackpot is one of his most endearing qualities).

Through this blog and the WordPress community, I have met countless interesting, funny, wise, generous, smart bloggers. There is so much positivity in this community and I am better for the connections I have made here. That’s why I’m so surprised when I hear about the cruelty and malice some people engage in—usually anonymously. I don’t understand it; perhaps I never will. But if enough of us click mindfully, and choose kindness, perhaps the unkind voices will someday be stilled.

That will news worth tweeting….

“How would your life be different if…you stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day…you look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey.” (Steve Maraboli)

Strategies for Bringing Kindness into Your Life

“If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it.” (Lucy Larcom)

IonaNorthShore-RocksAs I was thinking about what to write this week, I stumbled upon an article that resonated deeply with me. Juliana Breines, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow at Brandeis University, wrote an article entitled “Three Strategies for Bringing More Kindness into Your Life” for U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.

She describes 10 core kindness practices, under three broad categories, that research shows will enhance kindness and generosity, leading to increased overall satisfaction with life. What’s not to like here?

Cultivating Feelings of Kindness

The first category of kindness practices deals with cultivating feelings of kindness. For each of the painless strategies enumerated, there are research studies showing their effectiveness in enhancing our desires to be kind and compassionate.

Feeling Connected Practice – This practice asks us to think about a time when we felt strongly connected to another person—perhaps by a shared experience or a profound conversation. Research has shown that this simple exercise increases concern for others and spurs intentions to perform generous acts. The explanation for this outcome, according to Breines, is, “feeling connected to others satisfies a fundamental psychological need to belong; when this need is unmet, people are more likely to focus on their own needs rather than caring for others.”

Feeling Supported Practice – Another simple practice, this one involves thinking about a time you were comforted or supported by others and the qualities and actions of those people who supported you. Research has shown that this practice increases our compassion and willingness to assist a person in need or in distress. In addition to instilling a feeling of “attachment security,” this practice reminds us of the qualities we want to exhibit in ourselves.

Take an Awe Walk – I love this one. An awe walk is a stroll to a place that makes us feel “connected to something greater than ourselves.” It might be the ocean, a forest, or whatever to us seems immense and “perspective-shifting.” For each of us, that awe walk may be a different destination—it might be a lengthy hike, or a few steps from our back door. What’s your awe walk?

Compassion Meditation Practice – This is often referred to as lovingkindness meditation. It’s a practice combining breathing with extending feelings of goodwill toward oneself, one’s loved ones, acquaintances and strangers, and even people we dislike. Breines cites research that just two weeks of compassion meditation result in more generous behaviors and even alteration in the part of our brains that govern compassion and emotional responses. You can find many guides to compassion meditation on-line, including the Greater Good in Action website.

Pause: Before we move to the next category of kindness practices, pause and think about doing some of the above. Schedule an awe walk or think about when you feel connected or supported. Look into the lovingkindness meditation practice.

Increasing the Happiness We Get from Kindness

This next set of strategies deals with ways to be more intentional about practicing kindness in our own lives—and turning kindness into a habit. If you want to increase the number of kind and generous acts you perform, try these proven practices:

Random Acts of Kindness – Such acts are usually simple, spontaneous actions, such as picking up the tab for a stranger’s coffee, putting money in the meter so someone doesn’t get a ticket, or donating blood. This practice suggests performing five random acts in a single day and then writing about the experience. If you’d like more ideas about random acts of kindness, Buzzfeed has a great list of 101 suggestions. Breines notes that performing random acts of kindness both lifts our spirits and increases our self-esteem.

Making Giving Feel Good – There’s a difference between giving because we feel pressured or obligated to do so and giving because we want to. The former may not feel good and may even lead to resentment. The latter does feel good and increases our personal satisfaction. To avoid the negative feelings, we need to make giving a choice—whether we are being asked to give or asking others to give—it must be okay to say no. An additional way to make giving feel good is to make a connection with the recipient of your kindness—don’t just hand a homeless person a couple of dollars and hurry on; take a moment to make eye-contact and exchange a few kind words—it’s easy and it will make you both feel good. Another is to learn about the impact of your generosity—if you give time or money to a cause, take time to learn about how people are positively impacted by your generosity.

Inspiring Kindness in Others

The next set of practices are ways to help others see the value of kindness and engage in kind actions.

Reminders of Connectedness – This is simply examining our surroundings and looking for ways to create reminders of the importance of kindness and connectedness. It might be pictures of people working together placed on the walls of a classroom, a letter of thanks from someone who was helped by our work on the bulletin board at our office, or an inspiring quotation at the top of a board meeting agenda. Look around your place of work for places to convey your team’s connectedness or your shared mission.

Putting a Face on Human Suffering – Sometime kindness requires a kick in the pants—to help us overcome that powerful inertia that keeps us from acting. Sharing pictures or stories of people in need often lights a fire of action and involvement—motivating people to help. Remember the pictures last month of the Syrian child who had drowned in his family’s harrowing sea journey to freedom? That photo motivated more people to action than all the faceless reports of data related to the humanitarian crisis. Similarly, we’ve seen many times that a photo of an abandoned dog or cat in a cage at the humane society spurs the adoption of stray animals far better than reports citing the statistics of homeless animals.

Shared Identity – This practice asks us to explore ways of forging a sense of our common humanity across group boundaries. Whether it is our common love for our children or mutual passion for a sport, we can overcome fear and mistrust by developing a sense of shared affinity. When we take time to think about it, we have so many more similarities than differences with the people who may seem alien to us.

Encouraging Kindness in Kids – If we can instill kindness at an early age, we can change the world. Strategies for nurturing children’s natural propensity toward kindness and generosity include avoiding external rewards for kind behavior so kids see that kindness is its own reward; praising kids’ character so they come to see themselves as kind; when criticism is called for, criticizing the child’s behavior, not their character; and modeling kindness ourselves.

As I review this list of strategies and behaviors that promote kindness, I’m struck by the fact that none of them are difficult, they simply require practice. Like anything we want to do well—from public speaking, to ping-pong, to piano playing—we get good at it by practicing. I can’t think of anything more worthwhile to practice than kindness. Can you?

“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.” (Jim Rohn)