When Life Gives You Lemonade…

Life is full of lemonade. Joyful smiles. Music that makes your heart sing. The laughter and comfort of good friends, of knowing there is a soft place to fall. Everything in life that is hard, overwhelming, beautiful, meaningful, pushing you to expand out beyond your current self into something bigger and better.

Right now my cup of lemonade is overflowing. I am so grateful for it, but I have also come to realise that when anything overflows it means something else is lost. The Year of Kindness has indirectly lead me to take on many new adventures that constantly provide moments of real challenge and real joy.  But these new adventures have left very little time for blogging, and so I haven’t written a Year of Kindness post in a while. I’m still doing kindnesses but rather than being conscious decisions they are more often then not things that just seem to happen while I’m busy making other plans. Things that have somehow become second nature without me even realising it – paying for someone’s bus fare when they don’t have change, stopping to talk to the homeless man down the street, positive post it notes anywhere and everywhere, volunteering for causes I really believe in, money in expired parking metres, buying organic, chatting to the bus driver, trying to actively listen and really be present for friends and family, just saying yes.

When I started this project I was restless and frustrated and a little lost. I wanted to prove that every individual has the power to create something positive amidst the chaos and cruelty of the world. That there is so much good all around us if only we look close enough. That you can be the change you want to see in the world. Now I know all these things to be true. But in these lessons I’m faced with a decision – do I try to get re-inspired, keep challenging myself with new and different kindness missions and continue to write about these experiences? Or do I accept that it is time to let this blog go, to enjoy the lemonade of small spontaneous kindnesses and stop trying to catch the overflow? Jury is definitely out…

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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…

The World Can Only Change From Within

“Now is the time for the tribes of Sydney to gather, collaborate, be entertained and accelerate this revolution toward a more kind, conscious and sustainable world.” – Jono Fisher, Wake Up Sydney

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend a conference called Time for Renewal: The World Can Only Change From Within. It was held by Wake Up Sydney!, whose mission is to inspire a kindness revolution for ourselves, each other and the natural world. It was two days of music, inspirational speakers, meditation, and workshops focusing on how to be kinder to ourselves. It was a truly amazing experience for me to discover a whole “kindness community” I never even knew existed and to realise I really seriously need to start doing more kindnesses for myself. Here are the biggest lessons I took away from it all …

Don’t wait for a Big D.
Big Ds are the life challenges that everyone is faced with at some point – death, diagnosis, disaster, divorce, depression, disease, downturn, destruction… They are things that rock us to the very core, make us question who we are and why we are here. If we survive these Big Ds, we are forever changed. The suffering they cause breaks us open to answer the greater questions of our existence. If we had not experienced them, we would not have been forced to get to face truths about ourselves and our lives. They require us to develop new ways of being in the world. Hopefully they make us live a more grateful, more purposeful, more kindful life. But why wait for a Big D to live this way? Why not be consciously aware each day of the preciousness of life? Why not start thinking right now about what we want to achieve in our lifetime and how we want to be remembered?

Live all the seasons.
Everyone wants to be happy. But even the happiest of people experience anger, sadness, frustration, regret … Just like summertime comes and goes, so too does happiness. No one can live a summer life all the time. We must accept negative emotions for what they are and think about what we can learn from them. This lesson really hit home for me. When someone very close to me died a couple of years ago, I felt very much like I should try to remember the happy memories and not wallow in sadness because that was not what they would want. However, denying the negative feelings was not making me happy. In fact, the suppressed sadness was like a weight on my chest, making it hard to breathe, hard to sleep, hard to do anything much at all. Then a friend of mine gave me the most wonderful gift – he gave me permission to be sad. He told me sometimes really sad things happen, and you just have to let yourself be sad about it. So I did. And at first there was so much sadness I thought maybe I would never pull myself out of that well again, but after a long time of allowing myself to sit with that sadness without pushing it away I felt it gradually ebb away on its own. Trust that you are strong enough and resilient enough to get through any negative emotions and that embracing them will allow you to emerge more appreciative and more positive.

Make time for stillness.
Inner peace does not mean happiness all day every day. In practical terms it means embracing the moment regardless of the challenges it presents with an open heart and a quiet mind. In order to develop a quiet mind, we must make time for stillness in whatever form fills us up. It doesn’t have to be sitting cross-legged with eyes closed saying “ommm” (although this works great for many people) – it could be listening to beautiful music, writing in a journal, walking in nature, people-watching at a cafe… Whatever makes your mind calmer and clearer and allows you to gain perspective. Make it a priority by deciding that your own wellbeing will come before all else, because it is the foundation for success in every other aspect of life.

Realise everything you have ever done was the right thing.
Wow. Really? But what about …? And even that time …? Yes. Every decision we make takes us in a new direction and helps us to change, learn and grow. The moments we don’t want to face are the ones that offer the chance to heal like no other moment can. The past has brought you to right here and now, armed with all the lessons you need to go forward. It is not possible to change anything that has already happened, but it is very possible to change your perspective of it. Did someone stomp all over your heart, and you are left angry and resentful that you didn’t see it coming? Why not re-frame the scenario to be incredibly grateful to that person for showing their true colours and setting you free to find someone who will give you 110% like you deserve? The greatest gift you can give to the world is your very best self, and that means accepting yourself and your past completely. That way you can move forward with a peaceful mind and channel all your energy into what you are meant to contribute to the world.

Stay on your own mat.
Sometimes when attending an exercise class its hard not to look around at other people and compare your own flexibility, or speed, or strength to theirs. But really, these comparisons don’t help us to perform better and usually end up making us feel bad about ourselves because there will always be someone who has more flexibility, speed or strength than us. The same is true in life – everyone is on their own path, with their own strengths and weaknesses. So we need to stop comparing ourselves to others and keep our focus on our own mat. Forget about what everyone else is doing, and concentrate on being the best version of yourself.

Be grateful for bees.
As I said in the introduction to the previous post by gorgeous Lesh, one of the most striking moments of the whole conference for me was being told that one bee works their whole lifetime in order to produce just a quarter of a teaspoon of honey. If we want to be truly kind to ourselves, that means rediscovering the rhythms of mother nature and recognising that we are connected to all creatures. We have a responsibility to not only feed our bodies with the cleanest, most nourishing foods but also to consider whether we are taking only what we need and doing so in a truly kind and ethical way. And that leads me to …

This week’s kindness challenge: Make food choices that are kind to animals and planet earth. Check out Lesh’s guest post for lots of simple, practical ideas (and check out her blog for awesome vego recipes if you are so inclined!)

Shock and Awe Kindness (Inspired by Kermit the Frog)

Dear Kindness Recruits,

In preparation for Wednesday’s 100 Days of Kindness mission, I must tell you something. Sometimes being kind is a bit like being green – it’s not always easy and people often give you very strange looks. But this only proves even more just how much the Kindness Revolution is a cause worth fighting for. We live in a crazy, mixed-up world and it’s up to kindness crusaders like us to remind people that it’s not all gloom and doom – that the world is also beautiful and meaningful and kindful. (Yes, sometimes I make up words, just go with it.)

As for me, my shock and awe campaign has already begun. I have upheld my end of the bargain and continued to really challenge myself with this week’s kindnesses. However, I am also discovering that the best, most rewarding kindnesses are not created but found. My advice to you would be to let your instincts guide you to find opportunities for kindness, because they truly are everywhere when you start looking.

On my 94th day of Kindness my mission presented itself at a shopping centre. I noticed a lady sitting on a bench. Not just any lady: possibly the loneliest lady I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t just her strange assortment of clothes or half-dyed hair or the fact that she was sitting by herself staring at nothing in particular or the way everyone gave her a wide berth as if she were about to spontaneously combust. It was something in her eyes, something totally defeated and lost and broken. I wasn’t sure what I was going to say, or even if she would respond to me when I did speak, but something told me I had to try.

I sat down next to her on the bench and noticed her outlandish shoes. Before I could chicken out I quickly heard myself saying, “Those are very interesting shoes.” There was a long pause, she slowly turned to look at me, obviously taken by surprise, and said, “Yes.” I thought perhaps that was the end of that. I couldn’t think how to go on from there. But then she began to talk. First about how she could only afford that one pair of shoes, then about every other aspect of her life, all of which were equally heartbreaking. I could feel people staring at us, knowing we must have seemed a very odd pairing (me still in my smart clothes from work, and her in the only clothes she owned). That made me annoyed to start with – she’s a human being like everyone else – but then I felt glad they were looking, as it meant I was making a strong point. I gave her advice when she asked for it, but mostly I just listened and tried to make her feel heard and understood. After about an hour the lady seemed to have grown tired of talking and we just sat for a little while. Eventually she turned to me and said, “Thankyou for listening to me. No one has paid any interest in me for such a long time. And just talking to you has made me think that there’s a chance things might turn out all right in the end.” Listening and acknowledging sure is a powerful thing.

On day 95 I faced one of my biggest kindness challenges: giving out flowers. I was viewing it as a major challenge purely from my previous experience – just thinking about that made my stomach turn itself in knots. And so I decided that rather than wait until Wednesday, I would dive right in and do it straight away. But this time I really thought things through to make sure it had every chance of being enjoyable. I recruited my awesome friend A to come along for moral support (and also because if people can see you have a friend who doesn’t think you’re crazy, then they’re less likely to think you’re crazy also.) Instead of handing out one bunch of flowers to one person, I handed out a whole lot of individual flowers to different people, thus taking some of the pressure off. I also generally approached people who were standing still or sitting down (at bus stops or in the park), not those who were walking by in a rush. And finally I tweaked the exact wording of my explanation to ensure that I got the words “free flower” and “kindness project” out in the first twenty seconds before the other person even spoke, because if I didn’t every single person’s instinctive reaction was to say no.

A happy flower recipient!

In the end, out of about twenty people, only three refused the flowers. Strange to think anyone would refuse to accept a little kindness in their life, but I did not take this personally, only thought it was their loss and moved on. It certainly helped to have A by my side reminding me what a positive thing I was doing, regardless of how people reacted. Of those that said yes, some of their responses were quite incredible – as A said, it “warms the cockles” and “brings a tear to the eye”. One lady informed us it was her birthday that day, another said she had been given the exact same flowers from her family during a really happy time and couldn’t describe how meaningful it was to her to recieve one again, and another lady said she was a big believer in random acts of kindness, that it took real bravery to do it for a whole year and that she was sure it would get much easier as I went along.

And it already is. On days 96 and 97 I bought a coffee for people at two new cafes in the middle of peak coffee hour in the centre of the city (so even the barista looked at me like I was Kermit the Frog). And it was only a single little baby butterfly that fluttered around in my stomach – rather than a whole butterfly family – as I explained to the baristas and the businessmen what I was doing and why. What did I care if they thought I was nuts, I don’t even work in the city so I am never going to see them again. And who knows, maybe later it will sink in somehow and they will see for themselves that random kindness is meaningful and important. And on day 98 I bought a sandwich for a homeless man who was not particularly grateful (making it clear he would prefer money instead), and I did not take that personally either. Just like when I was talking to the lonely lady, people stared at us in confusion as we spoke, and once again I was glad for it. If the man didn’t appreciate the kindness, at least people walking by might realise that “normal” people like “us” don’t have to walk by homeless people as if they don’t exist. Finally, somehow, I am starting to detach myself from the outcome of the kindnesses, and simply enjoy the journey, wherever it may lead me. Mission accomplished.

Kindness Army: Now Recruiting

“What this world needs is a new kind of army – the army of the kind.” – Cleveland Amory

Ten days from now, Wednesday July 13th, will mark 100 days since I began my kindness journey. Its crazy to think that as of today I have completed 90 kind acts already. It has also got me reflecting on what I was hoping to achieve all the way back in March when I first asked, Can Kindness Be Powerful? I wanted to challenge myself to walk the talk and ‘be the change I want to see in the world’. To stop complaining that there wasn’t enough kindness and start actively contributing to it instead. I also wanted to discover what impact this would have on myself and those I was kind to. Would I feel happier, more positive? Would others be grateful? Would they see the point? I wrote about all these things before starting the kindness journey but strangely enough I did not clearly articulate my biggest wish for this project: that it would inspire others to be kinder too.

The journey so far hasn’t all been smooth sailing – in fact there have been times when I have wanted to give up completely, but sticking to it has given me some amazing connections with beautiful people and allowed me to learn some life-changing lessons. I have performed big kindnesses that have resulted in big happiness. Lately however, real life has somehow crept in to take complete priority while kindnesses have taken a back seat. I have still completed a kindness each day – today, for example, I had a lovely experience microvolunteering on sparked (a way for “busy” people to volunteer a few minutes of their time and knowledge helping someone out with a worthy cause). And small kindnesses are still important and meaningful in their own way. But for my purposes I think its time to “take it to the next level”, to really challenge myself and make this project the best, most inspiring, most meaningful it can be. And I’d like your help. Yes, you! My plan is threefold:

1. The biggest week of kindnesses yet – I have almost completed all the kindness on my list, but this week I’m going to tackle the ones I have been putting off. These including giving food to the homeless, giving ten dollars to a stranger (inspired by Reed’s amazing Year of Giving), and (after a lot of mental preparation and positive affirmations) take two for giving away a bunch of flowers, one of the most challenging and meaningful kindnesses I have ever attempted.

2. Audience participation – Here’s my dream to celebrate 100 days of Year of Kindness: every person reading this blog performs a random act of kindness for a stranger on July 13th. Think about what would make your day a little brighter and do it for someone you don’t know. It does not have to be as big as giving away flowers or $10 (although that would be awesome), it could simply be writing a kind post-it note and leaving it in a public place. On the 13th I will be giving away flowers again, and considering how unexpectedly challenging this was the first time around, it would certainly give me an extra boost of kindness courage if I knew your lovely selves were out there in the world performing your own kindnesses too. And do let me know if you do, either by commenting or email: yearofkindness@gmail.com.

3. Guest bloggers – over the next few months there will be some amazing, inspiring guest bloggers contributing to Year of Kindness. They will be blogging about what kindness means to them and the change they would like to see in the world. Let me know if you’d like to be one of them!

Since you are reading this, I would say you are already part of the kindness army. Whether you know it or not you are probably already contributing to the kind, the positive and the good in the world. On July 13th, I invite you to take all your innate kindness, positivity and goodness and put it into one act to brighten the day of a friend you haven’t met yet. Go on, you know you want to…

The Need-To-Please Disease

Worrying what other people think of you. Needing approval and praise to feel good about yourself. Constantly saying and doing things simply because you feel obligated. Becoming anxious when someone doesn’t like you. Thinking other people’s opinions are more important than your own … These are all symptoms of the ‘need-to-please disease’.

In my not-remotely-scientific opinion, I think 90% of people suffer from this disease, often in silence, and sometimes for their whole lives. There are very few people who like to be criticised, unrespected or disliked. But does saying “yes” to everything and putting everyone else’s happiness before your own really equate to everyone liking and respecting you? Hardly.

I used to be a chronic people pleaser. I felt personally responsible for other people’s happiness and if someone was rude or nasty to me for no apparent reason I would try even harder to make them happy, assuming it had to be my fault in some way. I am definitely getting better at not taking these things personally, and accepting the only person whose happiness I control is my own. I now realise that most of the time nastiness is the nasty person’s problem and actually has nothing to do with me at all.

However, like most people I don’t think I will ever find being criticised or disliked easy to deal with. So when we are overcome with an attack of the People-Pleaser, what can we do to cure it? Psych Central has come up with a list to answer this very question, all scientific-like: 21 Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser. I’ve adapted the list down to my top 8:

1. Realize you have a choice.
This is the most powerful ah-ha moment a people-pleaser can have. You are not obligated to say yes to everything. You have a right to say no if you do not want, or are not able, to do something.

2. Stall.
Take time to think before you agree to something. Imagine saying yes and consider how it would make you feel.

3. Set limits.
If you choose to say yes, qualify it with boundaries. Let them know if you can only help on a certain day, or with a specific part of their request.

4. Consider if you’re being manipulated.
Don’t say yes if you feel the person is taking advantage of you. Say what you want and how you feel (it’s hard, but you’ll feel better when you do, and they might even respect you more for it.)

5. Use an empathic assertion.
If you say no, let the other person know that you have listened to them carefully and empathise with their situation but simply cannot fulfil their request.

6. Don’t give a litany of excuses.
It’s hard not to feel the need to justify yourself but its not necessary to give a long drawn-out explanation for why you can’t do something.

7. Be realistic, not dramatic.
Usually the consequences of saying no are far less significant than we imagine.

8. Remember that saying no has its benefits.
You can’t be everything to everyone. It is important to have time and energy for yourself and those closest to you. Saying no to things you don’t want to do is giving yourself the opportunity to do things you truly enjoy and value.

So if I’m a recovering need-to-please addict, you’re probably thinking that a Year of Kindness is not one of the recommended twelve steps. Here’s the thing: pleasing people is a great thing. Needing to please them is not. In light of that, this weeks kindnesses have all been completely annonymous, thus making it solely about pleasing others and removing the element of praise/approval. I put coins in public telephones and expired parking metres, bought coffees for two people and then slipped away before they found out, left money scratchies for people to find on park benches, and made a conscious effort to be a super considerate driver on the road. I was worried that the “annonymous” nature of these acts would indeed make them less enjoyable, but I’m pleased to report that simply knowing these things would brighten up someone elses day made me just as happy as if they had expressed direct praise and gratitude. Kindness is not an obligation but a conscious choice, and choosing it makes me happy.