“When the choice is to be right or be kind, always make the choice that brings peace."
Over the past year, the intentional practice of kindness has been a part of the teachings in many of the books I've read and taken to heart, two of the main ones being; The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and May Cause Miracles by Gabrielle Bernstein.
So, sometimes I play a game with myself to see how kind I can be to everyone I meet in a day. And by kind I don't mean just to be nice or polite. I mean real, honest to goodness kindness.
These kind acts do not need to be huge sweeping gestures to have an impact however; it could be as simple as smiling at a stranger on the street who looks like they're having a tough day, or giving a colleague or friend a thoughtful compliment. Or looking in a person's eyes and saying a heartfelt "thank you," and meaning it.
The other part of this that I think is important is not to fake it.
You might be surprised just how many opportunities you come across in any given day when you consciously look for them. And the more you look, the more second nature it becomes.
By accessing that part of yourself that already craves connection and an exchange of love you will effortlessly bring it forth.
So why should you try it?
It will make you feel good for one thing. Being bitchy, or snappy, or short with people—whether it's a friend, colleague, or stranger—does not make me feel better, and I’m guessing it doesn’t make you feel that great either.
When you’re unkind it's like you get a moment of perceived relief because you've discharged your anger, frustration, irritation, or whatever emotion you might be having, onto someone else so you don't have to feel it.
But, in reality, all you're doing is digging your own hole of discomfort deeper and now you have the added stress of feeling badly about how you acted.
When I snap at someone I instantly feel sick. And I admit that I do it more often than I would like...when I get stressed out, exhausted, too hungry, frustrated, overwhelmed—any number of things can bring on that momentary surge of unkindness.
And the more I've become aware of this, the stronger that sensation of feeling sick when I do it has gotten. That may seem counter intuitive, but it actually makes perfect sense. I feel sick when that happens because that is not the person I want to be.
And, really, it's not the person I am even when I’m acting that way.
It's not who any of us really are.
That rush of sadness and dislike for how I acted snaps me back into my right mind and lets me know that I've just done something that is not in alignment with how I want to treat other people, or how I want to be treated.
It's like a big flashing light saying "Choose again, choose again!" And when I catch myself and do a course correction by apologizing, taking a deep breath, forgiving myself, and setting the intention to lean more toward kindness next time I feel better.
Need some examples? Ok, here goes...
1. I walk into Starbucks the other morning and smile at the woman sitting in the corner with three kids who were screaming their heads off at 8:30 am.
I greet the barista behind the counter with a warm hello while making actual eye contact and asking how she is doing after she asks the same of me.
She rings me up and says I owe $3.11, so I pull out three dollar bills and start fishing around in my bottomless pit purse for change while a line forms behind me.
I look up and the woman behind me says, "Don't worry about it, I've got it."
"Are you sure?" I ask tentatively.
"Of course!" she replies.
I say thank you, pick up my coffee and walk out the door smiling. I then realize I can't remember the last time someone did that for me, and see how that small act of kindness just made my day.
2. The next day I go to pick up a salad around the corner from my apartment.
As I'm walking into the restaurant I see a woman pushing an empty stroller and a man with a young child on his shoulders trying to maneuver it all to get out the exit door on the opposite side of the room.
I pop over to open the door and hold it for them as they make their way out.
They gush, "Oh my goodness thank you. There are kind people in New York!"
I smile and say, "It's no problem at all."
I walk up to the counter and give my name for the pick-up order. The woman at the counter smiles back at me and says it will be right out.
She goes to the back and returns seconds later with the bag and says, "There's a lot of love for you back there apparently!" She hands me the bag and they've written my name on it in bright red pen with a huge heart over the "I" in my name.
I give a big smile and say "Awww, thank you!" and head back out onto the city streets with a spring in my step.
I use these simple examples to illustrate just how easy it is to show kindness from moment to moment, even with complete strangers.
Do I think walking into a store and smiling at someone is going to change the world? Kind-of. Because the more people who do that, the more little sparks of light we can create in our communities and schools and offices, and by extension the world.
I mean, I've had so many experiences where another person's kind word or gesture has completely changed my mood and lifted me up in an instant.
As a result, I was kinder to everyone else I interacted with that day. And I bet they were too.
So, I invite you to pick a day and make kindness your primary goal. When you start looking for moments to bring it into your day, you'll realize how many chances we miss simply because we're not paying attention.
It's an interesting phenomenon to observe too because by being more kind, more kindness will naturally be shown toward you. To me, this is one of the purest and simplest forms of synchronicity.
It's almost like little winks from the universe that you are on the right path. Or that's how I choose to see it anyway.
And it's very different than thinking "Ok, I'm being super kind to all these people around me so I better get something in return." It's quite the opposite actually.
It's more like an invisible current that carries an exchange of love and positivity from person to person.
And this practice of kindness also needs to be extended to that one person you are with all day and all night, every minute of your life. Yup, you guessed it—yourself.
Make a point of listening to how you talk to yourself for one day and you'll no doubt hear some pretty mean and unkind words being spoken. I remember the first time I tried it and I was blown away by how judgmental and unforgiving of myself I was.
Berating myself silently (yet loudly!) for forgetting to email someone back or making a silly mistake.
So, I invite you to try being kind to yourself and the people you encounter in a typical day: the person you get your coffee or newspaper from in the morning, the doorman at your apartment building or office, the cashier at your local drugstore, grocery store, or dry cleaner, the receptionist at your doctor's office, your mom, your boss, your friends.
Just try it for one day and see how you feel.
Because every time you choose to make loving kindness your bottom line, starting line, and finish line you're making a choice about how you want to experience the present moment, and simultaneously reshaping your past, present and future.
The loving energy you bring forth has the potential to create a ripple effect in the lives of everyone who crosses your path, and it’s up to you whether you want those ripples to spread positivity and kindness or fan the flames of self-doubt, fear, and judgment.
Those ripples do not lap softly against the shore. They create dangerous crashing waves that pull people underwater in their current.
So ask yourself what kind of ripple effect you want to create before your feet even hit the floor each morning.
You’re going to create one whether you want to or not just by being alive, so why not choose to make ripples that create the kind and happy world you want to live in?