I have been noticing people around me being kind and compassionate lately, to myself and to others, and feeling a strong sense of gratitude and appreciation in response. I have been somewhat purposely watching the smallest, most mundane acts because they are the ones that happen most often and that most often seem to escape our notice. I have discovered that when I take the time to look for these, they are all around me, happening all the time. I see the large acts of kindness, too, but they simply don’t happen as often because the opportunity simply isn’t there so much of the time. Large and small, acts of kindness tend to be quiet and restrained, so they are easy to miss if you aren’t looking for them, as I find I do when I am caught up in the busy-ness of my everyday life. I have seen strangers hold open doors for elderly people or children in strollers, I have seen patrons offering their place in line to someone who appears to need it more, I have seen friends offering emotional and material support in times of crisis, I have seen children, large and small, sharing toys and food with others, and I have seen one customer buy another’s drink in the line at the coffee shop.
Kindness is all around us everywhere I care to look, every day. Social scientists have studied helping behaviors, and have long known that when we perform altruistic acts, all people involved leave with a heightened sense of good feelings: joy, happiness, peacefulness, warmth. I doesn’t matter whether you are the giver, the receiver, or the witness in the act. In fact, the witness leaves with an even larger share of positive emotions than anyone else involved! Additionally, the act of giving or receiving kindness is a great way to feel connected to yourself, others, and the community at large. Connectedness helps reduce stress and allows us to feel calm and creative.
I know that most of us don’t think of ourselves as curmudgeons, but I imagine we could all do with even a little more kindness in our daily lives. Putting this idea into practice is easy. Start by finding ways to more kind and thoughtful to the people in your life whom you care about. Go out of your way to be kind and see what happens. You could compliment them on something they did well or simply be truly thankful for something they do on a regular basis that you hardly notice most of the time. Then expand that out to co-workers, neighbors, and other people you don’t know very well. Just offer to help whenever you see an opportunity. If you are looking, you will see them all over the place. Finally, spread your compassion and caring in small ways everywhere you go. Smile at others often, offer to carry someone’s groceries, help out wherever you see it might be needed.
And don’t forget the witness effect. Look for the small ways every day that people around you are doing kind acts for each other with no hope of return. It may help you do the same. But if nothing else, watching others perform kind acts will help you feel good, too!