Ellen DeGeneres closes all her shows saying, “Be kind to one another.” It’s good advice. And, who couldn’t use a reminder when our lives get frenzied, like during the holiday season. While we’re rushing around to get ready for parties and gift giving, the basic courtesies of saying “please” and “thank you,” holding doors for others, and smiling can be forgotten.
In the spirit of the season and the spirit of being good to each other, we’ll need to keep the basics in play, but to be kind is more than being polite. Here are six ways to inject true kindness with those you meet and those you know.
When you are out and about, walking through the office or park or shopping center, look up and take notice of those around you. Smile when you catch eyes with someone. Say “hello” and even make small talk with someone standing near you in line. When you’re talking with people, look at them. Making eye contact and interacting with those around you generates a connectedness that is shown to reduce anxiety and improve self-esteem. Looking up and out expands your frame of view and will allow you to see more opportunities for kindness.
DITCH YOUR PHONE
When you are spending time with friends or family, put your phone away. Not just face down on the table, actually put it away where you can’t see, hear, or feel it. This goes for your wearables, too. Glancing at your watch, whether to check the time or look at a notification, only sends one message: the person you are with is not worth your attention. Make your loved ones feel important by giving them your undivided attention when you’re together.
Hugging happens a lot this time of year. You can take it from a quick greeting or goodbye to real kindness by extending the duration. It would be weird with a stranger, so only go in for the prolonged hug with a close friend or family member. Body-to-body gestures, like hugs, make us feel safe, and the 20-second hug amplifies the release of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, that is known to lower blood pressure, slow heart rate, benefit immune systems, and have a positive effect on mood.
CALL TO APPRECIATE
Recently, I was venting to a friend about a poor experience and “how hard it is to get good service lately” (yes, I just heard my mother, thanks). She responded by asking me if I ever call to tell businesses about a good experience. That question reframed how I thought about service, so I can now focus more on the good experiences. Ironically, I seem to have more of them now. Aside from showing your appreciation to the individuals who perform a service with generous tips and copious courtesy, contact the supervisor to tell them you appreciate what they do for you. I’ve started doing this and I am often tickled by how surprised they are to hear they got it right. Supervisors who feel appreciated will work harder and are more inclined to praise and reward their staff.
This is a lesson for all ages, but can come harder to us grownups. For some reason, the older we get, the less natural it is to make new friends. Kids don’t let the fear of awkwardness get their way, and neither should we. Combat the loneliness some people feel this time of year with an invitation to lunch or coffee. Even asking a question to get someone on the fringe to join in a conversation will go a long way to helping someone feel a part of the group. A sense of belonging improves motivation, health, and happiness.
We’re all trying to get somewhere. Driving aggressively is never safe and rarely gets you there faster than you would by driving considerately. Unfortunately, even normally courteous drivers can let impatience get the best of them when in a hurry. When you get behind the wheel, take a breath and decide to be kind to those sharing the road with you. If you accidentally cut someone off, acknowledge with a mouthed “sorry” and a wave. Adjust your speed so others know you will let them merge. Yield to pedestrians with a wave and a smile. If someone cuts you off, assume they didn’t intend to and move on.
If you search for ways to be kind on the internet, you’ll find list after list containing simple gestures of courtesy. To be kind, we start with courtesy, but the act of kindness is bigger and should leave someone with a longer-lasting effect than a polite encounter. The six behaviors we described will undoubtedly leave an impression on those who work, live, and interact with you. But, the best part of practicing kindness is that you will realize the mental health benefits right along with them. Be kind to one another and you’ll also be kind to yourself.