Kind Deeds, One Day at a Time
On her website for her Born This Way Foundation, singer Lady Gaga posted a challenge to BeKind21 and practice kindness toward yourself and others each day, from September 1 to September 21.
We jump at the chance to be kind every day but especially now since it’s right after the Jewish New Year when we are thinking more about doing good deeds for others and trying to be better people.
The pandemic has upended many people’s lives with deaths of loved ones, illness, loss of jobs, separation from family and friends, heartache and great stress. It’s difficult to feel good and giving. We are all hurting in one way or another.
We might push ahead in a line to get a good seat, not return a grocery cart to the spaces provided so it might roll and ding someone’s car in the parking lot, forget to say please or thank you whenever it’s appropriate if someone holds the door open for us and be nasty to a server who gets an order wrong. One developer recently told Barbara, who was interviewing him for a real estate article, how residents of some of its rental properties have become abusive toward staff, not dissimilar to what’s happened to flight attendants on airplanes.
How hard is it to be kind? It might seem difficult now but it’s actually quite easy. Pick up a phone to check on a friend who is having surgery or lost a loved one. We all have a few minutes to kill, don’t we? Shoot a cheery email or text to a friend who is down in the dumps. Tell someone on Zoom that you like their new hairdo or lipstick color or say it when you see them in person. Hold open the elevator door for a person who is in a hurry and carrying lots of packages. It’s simple good manners.
Like adding seasoning to food, sprinkle a little joy. It’s a spice of life that goes a long way. It doesn’t have to cost a thing except a little time and thought.
This isn’t about being liked. It’s about thinking outside yourself and making someone else feel valued. And surprisingly, being kind can be self-healing. Case in point. You’re in a bad mood but find that doing something for someone else is like flipping a switch from a focus on you to them. And when you give of yourself in a kind way, brain chemistry changes, feel good chemicals are released.
We have also found that we’re good at picking up on clues when someone may need a virtual hug in the form of a friendly phone call or email just because they’re less outgoing than we are and feel alone.
Barbara always tries to be inclusive in planning an outing or arranging a Zoom call. “People like to be invited,” says Barbara’s beau. Or as another person once said to her, “Just add more water to the soup for another person to sit around the table.” (That’s when we had people around our table, but we will again, we hope!)
We decided to do one conscious kind act daily, whether it’s to compliment a stranger or friend’s outfit, help someone older than we are struggling to get up a flight of stairs, letting someone get ahead of us in a grocery line when they are buying just a few items and we have a cartful and even helping someone pay for groceries or a grocery bag if they are short on cash.
How do you start a daily kindness routine? Small steps. Call someone you haven't in ages; invite a friend to lunch or dinner (outdoors now), send a card for no reason--it's fun to receive real mail that's not a bill, tell a stranger who looks great how much you like what they're wearing, and so on.
When you do something routinely day in and day out, it can become a habit, though according to expert Phillipa Lally, it takes 66 days, which we learned in writing our last book, Not Dead Yet: Rebooting Your Life after 50. We’re going for the forever.
Kindness is also contagious, do a good deed for someone and they’ll pay it forward, and the effort eventually will go exponentially through the universe. Now, wouldn’t that be wonderful!
After 21 days of trying, we have found it joyful to inject kindness into our daily routines with no expectation of anything in return. Here are our suggestions with one extra one for super kindness. Pay attention to how you feel after you start making kindness a more regular part of your repertoire. For example, when someone does say “thank you” when you’ve held the door, you might notice you have an extra bounce in your step and a slightly bigger smile.
- Try regularly to call some elderly friends who are not getting out very much given the coronavirus and their own aging infirmities. Drop off a bread or homemade cookies at a friend’s home who’s ill. It’s a great way for those who love to bake to share sweets and not eat them yourself.
- If you do bake something for someone else, try to deliver it in person once you’re fully vaccinated. Live human contact is priceless, especially during the pandemic when our socializing is so much less.
- Hold a door open any time someone is behind you, which means sometimes looking behind you rather than charging full steam ahead.
- Pay for a stranger’s cup of coffee who’s in the line behind you at a coffee shop. Do it just because.
- Send a very pretty card for someone’s birthday, anniversary or just to say hi.
- Call an elderly person who lives alone and like Barbara did during Rosh Hashanah, wish them a happy new year. Check on the person regularly. Barbara tries to drop off a large-print book and bread at an elderly friend’s home periodically.
- Contact a relative you haven’t spoken to in ages. Both Barbara and Margaret did so during the Jewish High Holidays. Barbara felt the relative wasn’t interested in maintaining a relationship because she never picks up the phone to call her. That’s when Barbara gently reminded her that the phone works both ways. She got a lovely response back with the cousin saying she would be more in touch. Barbara felt it was a kind deed to explain her feelings.
- Be kind to yourself. If someone hurts your feelings, let them know in a non-confrontational way. Sometimes it is kinder to let the other person know that such unkind words are not welcome rather than acting toward that person in a passive aggressive way and avoiding them. Better to clear the air.
- Tip extra at a restaurant or coffee shop. Low-wage earners are strapped for money. Go above 20 percent, if you can. We’ve all read articles about how difficult it is for restaurants to make money during these challenging times, finding servers and other staff and sometimes attracting enough diners.
- In this same vein, donate to your favorite restaurant or small business if it’s having trouble staying afloat. Often there are online fundraising efforts. Or organize one in your neighborhood. And try to buy local when possible.
- Surprise a loved one by making a special mid-week dinner for a spouse or partner rather than slapping something together. Take your time. Study a few food sites online. Barbara did and prepared a nice dinner of a crispy Chinese chicken stir fry with garlic, ginger, chili paste and broccoli one night; another night it was salmon with orange and mint. Neither took long to prepare. Margaret will often invite her family over for a special dinner and treat them to their favorite just out of the oven popovers. They’re as good, if not better, than one famous department store’s version.
- If you’re invited to an outdoor party, bring an extra nice gift. So rarely do we socialize these days that it will make you feel good to be extra kind and appreciative of the invite.
- If you’re invited somewhere, offer to pick up an elderly person or someone who no longer drives at night. It’s kind not to have them go alone. Call the person the day before and remind them of what time you’ll be at their door.
- If you are going to the grocery or pharmacy and know someone is ill, too busy or unable to get out, offer to pick up something for them.
- If someone new moves into your neighborhood, bring them a bottle of wine or something yummy to eat. Introduce yourselves and then have them over. Invite other neighbors so they can meet others and feel welcome in their new home.
- Go out of your way to help someone who asks you for help, assuming you can make the time. We often get asked to look at someone’s manuscript or write a review or help them figure out how to get something published. We’ve been helped and this is an opportunity to pay it forward whether it’s offering our time or suggestions. Sometimes, however, we must say no, but we try to do so kindly and still offer a few tips.
- Offer to babysit or fill in if your neighbor with a small child must pick up an older child at school. Set the limits. “I would be glad to watch your little one while you pick up his sister. I only have 45 minutes free right now. Can you be back?”
- If you’re downsizing and getting rid of stuff, offer it to friends and neighbors who might like your lovely wine glasses or the candlesticks they admired that were on your dining room table. Perhaps the friend helped you pack all your books. Offer to let them pick some books they might like. Be generous. Not everything has to have a monetary return. It’s fine to give things away to those who would appreciate them and were there for you.
- Be kind to staff. If you live in a building with doormen, tell them occasionally how much you appreciate what they do. Same goes for your hair stylist, personal fitness trainer, drycleaner.
- Be kind to your children. We’re quick to suggest or reprimand. If they accomplish something special, tell them how terrific you think they are… and if they’re struggling, be there to listen, rather than jump in and try to fix things. Better they figure it out and own their success.
Try to be more patient with telephone personnel when calling with a question or problem. Often we are put on hold or they're difficult to understand because of an accent or they speak too softly. Keep in mind that they are trying to help us.
And here’s a bonus, just because we’re feeling super generous. If you work regularly with someone—as we do, thank them periodically and tell them how much you enjoy the work relationship. It’s money in the bank so to speak, worth millions.
Share your suggestions. We’d love to know.