Linda Graham, MFT believes that small acts of kindness can truly change the world. She explores the “super-powers of kindness” and ways to pass it on.
When my friend Edith’s grandson Nick was 6 years old, she asked him one day, “Do you know that you have super powers?” Nick wasn’t sure if that meant he could fly or run super fast. Edith told him, “You do. When you say something nice to someone, when you do a kind thing for someone, or when you just smile in a friendly way at someone, you make two people feel good: you and the other person. That’s your super power.” Nick looked a bit skeptical, so Edith continued, “Don’t believe it just because I said it. Be a scientist and investigate it for yourself. Use your super powers every day and see what happens.”
What happened over time was Edith heard reports from Nick: Once when he and a friend were on the schoolyard swing set, a bigger kid pushed his friend off his swing. Nick ran and got a teacher who made sure the swing was restored to his friend. Another time, Nick saw his younger brother Jace toddle over and reach toward the exhaust pipe of the car that Nick knew was hot so he ran over and pulled Jace safely away from it. Another time Nick reported that he and a lot of other kids on his soccer team received awards but Justin didn’t get an award, so Nick gave him his. Another time, when his older nicked her leg at camp, Nick raced down the hill to get a band-aid for her from the camp office.
Children learn kindness from role models and from practice. Nick watches out for ways to take care of other kids and reports feeling “very happy.”
You can take a kindness challenge and practice your super powers of kindness. One way is to sign up at KindSpring.org, where participants receive daily e-mails for 21 days, suggesting ways to tune into and act on everyday opportunities for kindness.
Or create your own. The following are some ideas in which to fold into your own kindness challenge.
Pay forward a surprise treat
Leave extra change in a vending machine for the next person, or give $5 to the cashier at your favorite cafe and ask them to gift someone a cappuccino or delectable pastry during the day. If you want to step-it-up, bake or buy a sweet treat and gift it as a surprise to a hardworking someone, maybe the janitor in your building, or the friendly face at the checkout counter, or the colleague who’s having a rough day. Because there is nothing quite as disarming as unanticipated kindness, and your small act just might restore someone’s faith in the goodness of humanity.
Re-connect with an old pal
Today is the day to finally send that email or make that phone call to a special friend in your life whom you haven’t been in touch with for a while. Maybe it’s someone you made mud pies with in kindergarten, or a college roommate with whom you pontificated on the meaning of life. Maybe it’s someone you had a beautiful four-hour conversation with on an airplane. Whoever it is — dig up that email, diary or scrap of paper that has their contact information on it or go questing on Facebook! If you want to step-it-up reach out to this person with a heartfelt message of gratitude for the role they played in your life and the fun or poignant memories you shared together. Make their day and your own — because there’s nothing quite like the unconditional affection of an old friend!
Thank a public servant today
The daily whirl of our lives is supported by the steadfast contributions of so many unsung heroes. From the person who delivers your mail, and the one who collects your garbage, to the bus driver who gets you to school or work on time, and the police officers who help keep your neighborhood safe.Today is your chance to celebrate one of them! Make time to express your gratitude verbally. And if you want to step-it-up think of a small gift you can surprise them with and accompany it with a personalized Thank You card. Because everyone appreciates appreciation.
Send a hand-written note
In today’s world of texts, voice messages and email, receiving a handwritten letter or card is increasingly rare. And yet we all know the incomparable feeling of opening one up. There is something personal, vulnerable and profound in the act of putting pen to paper, and translating heartfelt thoughts into ink. Today is your day to do just that! Write a letter to a dear friend, relative or colleague who you are feeling grateful to have in your life. To step-it-up, write to more than one person, include the lessons you have learned from them, and how you have applied them in navigating your own life.
Give up complaining for a day
How long can you go without complaining? This challenge sounds deceptively simple but when you really try and practice it to the fullest, it becomes clear how much self-awareness it takes to truly stop complaining. Not just at a vocal level but also at the levels of thought and internal reaction. There is wisdom in being kind. This day is an opportunity to try and step back from generating negativity and to try and transform those moments of annoyance, anger or discomfort into an opportunity for a kind thought, word or action. You might just be amazed by the results. And if you want to step-it-up, extend today’s challenge for the rest of the week!
Surprise someone with flowers
Flowers have a way of warming the heart instantly. Spill some floral cheer into someone’s life today! Pick some flowers from your garden, or buy some from your local florist. Or if you’re feeling artistic, fashion your own flowers from cloth or paper. Surprise a friend, neighbor, colleague, or relative with a charming bouquet. To step-it-up, gift flowers to someone who renders an unheralded service to the world. Maybe the security guard or the janitor at work, or a construction worker or toll booth operator in your town.
Connect with a stranger
Today’s challenge involves going beyond your usual circles and engaging with someone you don’t know very well. Maybe you will invite a new colleague to coffee or lunch, or make an effort to talk to someone at your school who seems lonely. Maybe you will strike up a conversation with the person next to you on the bus or the subway, or spend time connecting with someone who is on the street. The idea is to simply broaden your circle of caring in a small but heartfelt way. To step-it-up, actively send silent good wishes towards everyone who crosses your path and notice how this simple practice changes the quality of your day
Call a loved one
Sometimes we can get so caught up in our daily routine that we don’t make enough time to connect regularly with the people who care most deeply for us. Today, carve out time to call someone who loves you dearly — whether it’s your parents, an aunt or uncle or someone else who has played the role of guardian angel in your life. Share with them some of your experiences from the kindness challenge and perhaps ask them about an act of kindness they received that they’ve never forgotten. To step-it-up, make a commitment to yourself to call this person regularly, whether it’s on a monthly, weekly or daily basis.
Spend 15 minutes in silence
Today, carve out time in your day for quietude and stillness. Sometimes in the whirl of activity and chatter of the weeks we lose connection with the deeper parts of ourselves and our highest intentions. Moments of silence and stillness can be real teachers. And the beauty of it is that by getting back in touch with ourselves we strengthen our capacity for touching the lives of others. For fifteen minutes today, practice a form of silence and going within that resonates with you, whether that’s through meditation, prayer, a simple walk in the garden, or just sitting on your front porch in gratitude. Whatever the form, let the spirit of it be that of reconnecting with yourself. If you want to step it up, increase the fifteen minutes to an hour. Use those moments of silence as a touch point through the day. Notice how the quality of your attention and interactions change as you carry that experience forward.
There are countless more ways to practice kindness. If you are interested in committing to a 21-day challenge such as the one encouraged by KindSpring, here are some helpful tips: