Is This Progress?

“It’s a funny thing that medicine and science and technology have come so far, but people haven’t progressed.”

We like to think that as a species humans are forever moving forward onto bigger and better and faster and smarter things. We stand on the shoulders of giants and create iphones and clone animals and invent cars that park themselves. We are forever acquiring new information, ideas and solutions to problems we didn’t even know we had. We are progressing. Of course we are. Right?

Well, if you ask Faye, someone well into her nineties who has lived through some of the toughest times in human history, it all depends on your definition of progress. I first met Faye about a month ago for my 100th Kindness mission to visit someone in hospital who doesn’t get many visitors. It was an incredibly moving experience meeting her and hearing her stories. She was overwhelmed with emotion at the thought of someone taking the time to visit her and bring her flowers. And over the weekend I was able to track her down again after much confusion, calling around and getting lost (the hospital told me she was at the retirement home who told me she was at the hospital …) It was wonderful to see her again, to share a cup of tea and her
favourite pecan pie and talk about everything and anything. She was so grateful that I had come to visit again and I said I would love to visit her regularly if she would like me to. Faye said that since she had never had a granddaughter and I was missing my grandmother, it surely wasn’t a coincidence that we had met each other.

She is a beautiful, warm, positive person, endlessly upbeat and uncomplaining despite the many hardships she has faced and many ailments that make life difficult. And yet, on the topic of the world today (and tomorrow) she could find little to be hopeful about. She shook her head as she talked about the madness she saw on the evening news. She couldn’t help but think that humanity itself was going backwards at a rapid rate, because in general people don’t look after one another anymore and everybody seems so angry and so violent. She pointed out the irony that “medicine and science and technology have come so far, but people haven’t progressed.”

I wanted to dispute her, of course. I wanted to tell her that it’s not just the minority that are progressing, thatmost people are becoming better and more enlightened and more compassionate. But as I was trying to pull together some kind of argument for this it struck me like an avalanche: I don’t have one. What words could possibly lessen the evils of riots and dictatorships and war that are going on right now? There is nothing anyone can say or do to take away the horror and inhumanity of what goes on in our world every single minute of every single day.

I could not give her any real evidence of the goodness in the world, all I could tell her was what I believe. I believe there is just as much good in the world as bad, we just don’t hear about it because it is not
considered newsworthy. I believe that in the same heartbeat as all the death and destruction and fear and hatred there is also equal amounts of selflessness and compassion and kindness and love. But I don’t know this, I have no real evidence that is true; I only hope with my whole heart that it is. But as much as my heart had been lifted by seeing her, as I left Faye shuffling slowly back to her hospital bed to eat her tasteless hospital dinner with scenes of chaos on the muted television that could have been any number of countries I felt my heart sink. There was the avalanche of heavy realisation again – what possible goodness could even come close to counter balancing all the bad in the world?

And then there was this: today as I pulled my car into the driveway at work, a man walking by stopped and moved the garbage bins out of my way, giving a nod and a wave before continuing down the street. Later, it began to rain as I walked to the shops and I saw a lady stranded without an umbrella. I offered to share mine, to which she gratefully accepted and said she had done the same thing for someone else the day before. Then while I walked her home another man ran past us at top speed – I assumed he was running for the bus which was just about to pull away – only to race over to help a mother who was struggling to lift a pram up some stairs. He then walked over to the bus stop and stood to wait for the next one with a small smile on his face. These moments were not anywhere near as big as the catastrophes that were occuring at the exact same time in some other parts of the world. Yet they contained tiny little seeds of hope that restore some balance between those heartbreaking news stories and the innate goodness of people. I will certainly be sharing these small kindnesses with Faye next time I see her.

The True Meaning of Success (Wisdom from My Grandpa)

“To laugh often, and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better… To know even one other life has breathed easier because you lived.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Losing my grandma was one of the biggest Big D’s in my life, and that of my whole family. She was an incredibly selfless person, full of cuddles and laughter and endless love and positivity. I dedicate this project to her, because she was the one to instill the value of kindness within me. After she died I worried a lot about how my grandpa would cope. In stark contrast to my grandma, he has never been very good at expressing his emotions or connecting with others. He much prefers to talk about facts and numbers and dates. But since she died something very interesting has happened – my withdrawn grandpa has been slowly been coming out of his shell, emerging just a little bit softer and warmer and more expressive. Suddenly he has started to make an effort to reach out and connect, much to everyone’s surprise.

Tonight at a family dinner he told me he wanted to share something with me, and then read out the Emerson quote above. He said it made him think of me because thats what I was trying to do: “to make other people breathe a little easier, and that’s really what matters in the end.” I felt goose bumps rise up on my skin. I had no idea that he even knew about my kindness project, let alone that he would understand so completely the very heart of it. His thoughtfulness was that much more beautiful and profound because it was so utterly unexpected. It made me realise that perhaps my grandma and grandpa weren’t so different after all. That underneath we all just want to breathe easier and believe that we helped someone else to do the same.

Undercover Kindness, Old School Style

In this fast-paced, techno-obsessed age, there is something extra wonderful (and yes, kind) about taking the time to do things the slow way. I have written before about my hippy tendencies, about my vague but persistent urge to embrace the ‘peace and love’ movement. Whenever I am feeling a bit lost, the things that ground me again are getting back to basics – cooking a slow meal, surrounding myself with nature, reading a good book, connecting with others.

So after a couple of weeks of being overwhelmed by “life stuff” and wandering off the kindness path, I decided the way to get back on track was going old school – slowing down and simplifying. I also did around two kindnesses each day to make up for lost time! I spent a day smiling and saying hello to people (always a challenge even to get eye contact). I made brownies for my new housemates. Went for a bushwalk and picked up rubbish. Bought a Big Issue and talked to two homeless people. Helped a lost boy find his father and lost tourists find the train station. I stuck post-its in public bathroom mirrors with comments such as “Hey, good looking! You’re gorgeous – don’t doubt it!” I also sent hand written cards to two of my most beautiful friends. There is something wonderful about recieving mail that is not bills or advertising, especially when you are not expecting it. Knowing someone thought of you and took the time to put pen to paper makes it feel like there is happiness and love tucked inside the envelope amongst every word.

My most fun kindness was an undercover mission to the library armed with my heart post-its, inspired by Kindnessgirl. Many people claim that books will very soon be obsolete with the invention of all the various electronic reading devices. The thought that one day books will go the way of CDs and videotapes is quite horrifying to me – I think there are few greater pleasures in life than curling up with a pre-loved novel on a rainy day. Or sharing a much-loved book with a child. There is something completely irreplacable about the feel and the smell and the very idea of a book and all the promises it has kept and made. A great book has the power to entertain and amuse and inform and inspire – to change your perspective and your life. I read a short story once that said the only people that would truly be able to live forever without becoming bored would be those that love books – there could never be enough time to read them all. For this mission I spent most of my time in the self-help and travel sections, imagining who might be picking up each book and writing notes of encouragement and positivity. For example, on a book about thinking your way slim: “The journey to your best self has already begun. Keep going!” And on a book about Brazil: “Rio Carnevale = the time of your life. Do it!”

I encourage you to take up the library challenge – it costs nothing, it might give someone a very unexpected boost of happiness and really is a lot of fun! Go forth and post-it. I’m off to read my book…

Kindness + Time = Lasting Happiness (Guest Post 3)

Considering my last post was all about surrounding yourself with positive, inspiring, like-minded people, it seems very fitting that this guest post is from someone who has been a great inspiration to me on my kindness journey. He has embarked on a very similar year-long challenge which he writes about in his honest and thoughtful blog Resolve to Give.

Eric has challenged himself every day for a year to “do something helpful for someone or our community; something which might be a little uncomfortable; something which connects me to someone; something which requires me to listen to people I disagree with; or something which forces me to seek out people who need a hand up. In the hopes that it becomes a habit.”

It makes me very happy just knowing that there are people like Eric moving through the world each day with such a beautiful, generous intent. Not only has he been able to increase the happiness of others, but has also learned the key to creating more happiness for himself – giving. Who knew it would be so simple?

* * * * * *

We all strive for happiness. In our jobs, in our hobbies, in our lives.

But if happiness is so important, why is it so fleeting? We hear a good joke and laugh. But it doesn’t last. We’re happy to get a raise. But it doesn’t last. We read an inspiring blog, feel motivated, happy to make a difference. But it doesn’t last.

So how do you turn fleeting happiness into lasting happiness? I propose that it comes from giving two things simultaneously, time and kindness.

Time – For the past year, I have been undertaking a personal challenge to give my time everyday, going above and beyond my normal routines to give back to the people in my home, neighborhood, community and the world. Over two hundred days of giving my time has taught me that the more time I invest in the people around me, the more their lives are improved and the more sense of purpose and direction I have. It has changed me deeply.

Kindness – Kindness is the art of giving to others as well. As the author of this blog, Catherine, has written so eloquently, it is giving your attention, giving a smile, or giving an ear. It means plugging a parking meter for a stranger. It means generosity. It means selflessness. It means listening when no one else will listen. Like listening to a lady sitting in a mall by herself.

When you give your time and when you are kind, you are investing in people. You are investing in the happiness of others. And that investment is magnified when you give more of your time to being kind.

The time you invest is the difference between feeding one mouth, or twenty. It is the difference between donating a few vegetables from your garden, or donating many vegetables by serving in a community garden. It is the difference between giving a kind word, or listening to someone’s story for an hour.

Kindness is magnified by the time you invest. The more time you give, the kinder you are, the bigger impact you will have on the world, and on yourself.

The impact on you is happiness. Knowing that you are making a difference, that your efforts have value, will reward you. People will give back to you smiles and gratitude which give us a feeling of worth.

But unlike the happiness from a good joke or more money, the happiness that comes from giving your time and kindness does not come back in ways you expect. It comes back in better, unexpected ways.

Happiness comes as an unexpected smile from a stranger because you are unknowingly smiling at them.
Happiness comes from an acquaintance expressing interest in your work, because you helped them with theirs.
Happiness comes when you need help, and suddenly, an army of people comes to your aid because you had helped them before.
Happiness comes from discovering a new skill, cultivated over time, by volunteering for something that initially challenged you.
Happiness comes, not because sadness and anger go away completely, but because you learn to look past it to next day.
Happiness comes from realizing that your time is yours, and that you are using it to make lasting change in the world.
Happiness comes because you can be kind to yourself without guilt because everyday you are kind to others.
Happiness comes in an untroubled night’s sleep which come more and more frequently.

And on and on and on …

By continually giving your time and being kind daily, you build lasting happiness. And you’ll probably make a lot of other people happy along the way.

Going with the Ebb and Flow

“Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change – this is the rhythm of living. Out of our confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress.” ~ Bruce Barton

Since starting this Year of Kindness, and even long before that, I faced many self-imposed obstacles to completing the journey. Fear of judgement, lack of time, questioning my own intentions and wondering if one person really can make a difference. But even when I was fearful or unsure, I could always see the importance of the cause, could always push through doubts and find motivation in the bigger picture. I have wavered but I have never just plain run out of steam.

Until about two weeks ago, when my motivation just floated away like a wisp of cloud into clear blue sky. I didn’t push myself to chase after it. I kind of just assumed that this indifference was another “season” and would soon pass. Since there was no obvious cause for this ebb of inspiration, surely after a couple of days it would start to flow again. Maybe there was a reason I couldn’t see right now.

And then last night I participated in the Winter Sleepout – raising money and awareness for homeless youths by sleeping “rough” in the cold and rain in a friend’s backyard. I did this with a lovely group of Lucca Leadership people, an amazing program I took part in at the beginning of this year which played a huge part in me deciding to do this Year of Kindness. The Sleepout was an element of the kindness project that I had helped organise a while ago after a thought-provoking conversation with a homeless man. And this kindness came at just the right time (as these things usually do). It was nowhere near as challenging as a real night on the streets. We were in the security of a backyard, with warm food, a tarp shielding us (mostly) from the rain and a fire. So there were many things to feel grateful for. But what I felt most thankful about in that uncomfortable situation was a great group of people to be in it with. From speaking to a few homeless people during YOK I know that what they want most of all is not money or food but someone to acknowledge them and talk to them like a fellow human being. I cannot imagine the loneliness of having not a single friend that would take you in and give you shelter and food.

The cosy sleeping arrangements during the Sleepout...

I felt lucky to be surrounded by people to talk to and connect with, and even more than that, people who want to live big-hearted and purposeful lives. Everyone there was a Lucca Leadership person, and therefore all very inspiring and insightful people in different ways. We had all taken part in the amazing Lucca experience which, among other things, involved asking ourselves big questions about the world and our place in it. How can we contribute to making the world a better place? Last night we spoke about how difficult it is to stay on track, to hold on to inspired energy in the practicality of everyday life. We all agreed it’s easy enough to find the creativity and energy. The hard part is keeping it. But I realised we are lucky to even have the chance to give to others. We have enough for ourselves, we are not struggling to get by like so many people are, we have food and shelter and friends who provide support and love and encouragement. Each and every one of us has the opportunity to make a positive contribution. Ready, set, go!