Do you think you are kind? Although most of us act on kindness and service during the holidays, most don’t make kindness a priority beyond November and December. An NBC News poll showed 62 percent of us believe children aren’t as kind as they used to be. And 77 percent of us think parents are to blame for those declining figures. The poll results show that most parents believe teaching honesty (43 percent) is more important than teaching kindness (29 percent). But 52 percent of those polled believe kindness is an innate quality that doesn’t need to be taught. Although people may not agree on the process of being kind, there’s no doubt the world could use more of it, especially after the holidays are over.
Here are four ways to start practicing kindness and build a positive, happier life all year.
- Practice gratitude.
Like most worthwhile tasks, the act of gratitude takes practice. “It’s a practice to take a moment each day to take in natural beauty and reflect on positive events,” says Lori Chandler. “And like all practices, it takes stamina to stick to it.” Not only does showing gratitude improve the life situation for others as well as ourselves, but it’s also good for our health.
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“Research shows that when we think about what we appreciate, the parasympathetic or calming part of the nervous system is triggered, and that can have protective benefits on the body, including decreasing cortisol levels and perhaps increasing oxytocin, the bonding hormone involved in relationships that make us feel so good,” says Today Health and Wellness contributor Lauren Dunn. Simply identifying three things for which you are grateful will have a profound impact on kindness.
- Set new goals every month.
Rather than declaring this broad statement that your commitment to being more kind starts today and shall commence for the rest of your life, try taking smaller steps and reinforce this goal with new personal challenges every month. We come across new things to inspire us every day. And by allowing time to incorporate new things and change strategies when needed, we can continue to take charge of kindness all year.
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“We appreciate the efforts our staff makes every day to be patient and kind to those who need their help, said Debra Koenig RN LNHA, executive director at Fort Dodge Health & Rehabilitation. “We recognize that this time of year can be overwhelming for both our staff and residents, so the kind service and support that they share with each other, regardless of their hectic personal lives, inspires me to be better and try harder all throughout the year.”
- Say “yes.”
The foundation for sharing kindness is loving ourselves. Inspired by the book, Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person, written by television producer and creator Shonda Rhimes, saying yes to trying new things, playing instead of working, and placing our happiness as a priority can motivate people to share those positive feelings with others. “When you’re willing to do something uncomfortable, it inspires other people to take action themselves,” says Bernardo Carducci, professor of psychology and director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast. This act of paying it forward sets the stage for positive change.
- Commit to kindness every day.
It’s great to hear that the food bank shelves are filled in December, but what about March? People need to feel love and kindness every day of the year and not just during the holidays. “Kindness is not an ‘extra,” says Harriet Lerner, Ph.D, psychologist and author of Why Won’t You Apologize? “Kindness is at the heart of intimacy, connection, self-respect, and respect for others.”
The truth is the opportunities to be kind during the holidays present themselves all year. We just need to use the same eyes and ears that are so attuned to doing service during the holiday season and choose kindness every day. “War, natural disasters, politics—you hit a point where you’re looking for positivity, but you don’t always know what to do or where to start,” says Kelsey Gryniewicz of the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. “But that’s the power of kindness—it just takes one person, one act. You don’t need money or a ton of time.”