More Wisdom from (Online) Strangers

I must admit, that for a long time the idea of blogging held very negative connotations for me. Although I love to write and I love to read, bloggers have that reputation of being somewhat self-absorbed people who believe everyone wants to read their opinion on whether cereal or toast is the superior breakfast food. However, since becoming part of the blogging community I have found many inspiring, witty, thought-provoking, smile-inducing bloggers on amazing journeys towards happiness and self-discovery. My kindness today is to share a few of my favourite lessons from some of my favourite blogs:

1. Say what you want, without expecting to get it The Power of ‘I Want’ from Growth Journal. This is a beautiful, insightful blog about personal growth. This post impacted me a lot because one of my biggest flaws is an inability (or unwillingness) to say what I want or need, for fear of seeming selfish or entitled. This post made me realise I need to give myself permission to communicate what I want. It doesn’t necessarily mean I always expect to recieve what I want, but it can be validating and empowering simply to give it a voice.

2. Self-perception is everything Change how you see, not how you look from Drawing My Own Conclusions. I adore the hand drawn pictures that accompany the thoughtful words and affirmations in this blog. This is a gorgeous post about accepting yourself and your situation completely.

3. Asking for help is not selfish Asking for Help When You Need It from 1000 Mitzvahs. This blog is Linda’s journey to perform 1,000 mitzvahs or acts of kindness in memory of her father. Asking for help always seems like placing a burden on someone else, but this post made me realise that sometimes its actually a kind thing to do not only for yourself but for someone else who is made to feel needed and giving.

4. Find the balance between kindness to self and kindness to others – Lessons in Generosity from Smile, Kiddo. This blog is all about finding happiness in, and gratitude for, the little things in life. I could relate to this post very easily because I know all too well that giving too little can make you feel guilty and giving too much can make you feel resentful. But those emotional reactions are just your instincts trying to guide you towards finding the balance.

5. Experience all the seasons before passing judgement – The Seasons of Life from Happiness is a Lifestyle. This blog is Lexy’s personal journey to create more gratitude, inspiration and happiness in her own life. I really loved this post which encourages us to make sure we don’t judge a person or situation after seeing only one, negative side. Seeing a tree in winter does not give any indication of its beauty in spring.

6. Don’t talk change, make changeWhat If … from Resolve to Give. This blog is about Eric’s pledge to keep the giving spirit of Christmas alive all year long. It’s inspiring to read about how he is actively living out the change he wants to see in the world.

7. Give yourself more credit and remember the big picture – Doing Something Right from Bye Bye Bitters. This blog is an honest, funny, thoughtful account of Helena’s quest for happiness and self-acceptance. This post is a reminder of how we can all be our own worst critic and come up with a million ways in which we aren’t “good enough”, but really when we look at the big picture we are probably doing a lot of things right.

8. It takes time and effort to create consistent happinessLost My Way from Cure My Toxic Mind. A blog about one woman’s journey to free herself from negative thoughts. Even when we know in theory that happiness is created and not found, it takes time and dedication to learn how to put this into practice.

9. Little acts of compassion can change the world – Random Acts of Kindness: Keep it Simple from The Naked Conscience. In this blog Rachel discusses her own experiences in trying to bridge the gap between good intentions and actually doing good deeds. I love the quote by Chris Abani this post focuses on: “The world is never saved in grand messianic gestures but in the simple accumulation of gentle, soft, almost invisible acts of compassion, everyday acts of compassion.”

10. Accept nothing less than a fabulous lifeI can deal with aging but I can’t dig an ‘average’ existence from The Fab Life Project. This is an amazingly motivational blog that challenges us to question everything and develop an unwavering self-belief that we deserve to live our best life.

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Survival of the Kindest?

When I think of human evolution the first thing that usually comes to mind is the phrase “survival of the fittest”, and with it the assumption that human beings are hard-wired to be selfish in order to survive. But apparently this was not Charles Darwin’s phrase or even his theory. In fact, a lesser known element of Darwin’s theory was that sympathy is the strongest human instinct and one of the main reasons we have been so successful as a species. Modern scientists are building on this idea, studying the way in which our compassion, altruism and nurturing traits can make us healthier, more resilient and more respected.*

This week I started a new job and as I began to take my kindness project in this new workplace I hoped that sympathy, and not selfishness, would prove to be the better character trait to “survive and thrive”. My first week was hectic and overwhelming. Simply figuring everything out and getting everything done meant I had little time or energy for kind acts, but I did them anyway. I bought biscuits for the staff kitchen, washed coffee cups left in the sink, made a huge effort to learn everyones names and greet them with a smile each day, always expressed my gratitude when someone helped me out in any small way and offered to help others whenever I felt able. I also made sure to be kind to myself and simply say no when I felt taking on a task would be too stressful. (There is a difference between being kind and being a push-over.)

Most importantly though, I made an effort to listen and understand where people where coming from. Almost everyone was extremely welcoming and friendly, and for those that were not I tried to listen even harder. Rather than judging them or reacting in anger, I tried to read between the lines, find the reasons behind their behaviour and be compassionate even when they hadn’t done the same for me. I know many consider it a weakness not to “assert” yourself when someone is rude, and in some cases that is true, but a lot of the time it only creates more issues and it certainly doesn’t make us happier or less stressed.

I think most people find it incredibly difficult to continue being negative and unkind when you are persistently and genuinely kind and positive towards them. And once a group of people have all started to be kind, sympathetic and compassionate towards one another, there is no doubt that they can achieve far more than they could with an “every man for himself” mind-set.

* University of California, Berkeley (2009, December 9). Social scientists build case for ‘survival of the kindest’. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 12, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2009/12/091208155309.htm

Love the Rain (and Other Wisdom from Strangers)

Over the last few days little pearls of wisdom have been spilling forth from strangers in the most random of places, and each one has inspired a different act of kindness.

1. Thoughts create words create reality. On Saturday at the beginning of a gym class my instructor told us she was having a terrible morning, she was a magnet for things going wrong and all she needed now was for the “stupid microphone” not to work. Having also attended the previous class (sometimes I’m a little crazy that way), I knew the microphone was working perfectly well. But sure enough, she spent ten minutes flipping switches before exclaiming “It’s not working, as usual.” She then spent the rest of the class in turn shouting instructions and complaining about having to shout. She was so frustrated that she kept messing up the choreography. All day I thought about how easy it is to be your own worst enemy and not even realise it. I decided to make a conscious effort to be kinder to myself over the weekend. I did things that make me feel calm and happy – catching up with friends, exercising, meditating, eating well, reading, cooking… I also bought all my fruit and vegetables from a local organic market – to my great amusement the Englishman who was running the market told me I was “doing a jolly good thing for the environment but more importantly a jolly good thing for your health”.

2. Your life should love you. On Monday while I was in a shop, a fairly successful-looking woman was asked what she did for work. She laughed and gave the most amazing response I’ve ever heard: “I do whatever work loves me.” When asked what she meant, she listed an assortment of different jobs which she claimed all had one common element – they made her feel appreciated, valued, talented and loved. The lady went on to say that this was also true of people she had in her life – “How could anyone ever expect to be happy if they choose to spend time with people or work that doesn’t love them?” Of course we all know it is true, but as friend recently told me quite matter-of-factly, “Sometimes I think if I let go of every person who let me down, there wouldn’t be many people left.” I can empathise with this so strongly. But I realise more and more each day that it’s better to be surrounded by a few people that truly love you than many who don’t. Following on from this lesson I decided to make someone else feel loved and I wrote a gratitude card to my amazing friend R. She is constantly inspiring me, making me consider things from a different perspective and encouraging me to have unwavering faith in myself and the universe.

3. Love the rain. Today while waiting for my daily caffeine fix, I noticed a little girl (around five) sitting at the window of the cafe watching the rain outside. All around her us adults were complaining to each other about the cold, wet weather. This little girl, however, had a different take on things, bouncing excitedly in her seat as the raindrops fell heavier and heavier, and saying quietly: “Hello, rain! I love you. Thankyou for making the flowers grow.” If only we could maintain children’s natural ability to find such joy in things. This little girl inspired my ‘piece de resistance’ for this week (if not month): I went around to every unit on my floor (25 in total) and left a flower and a note on the doorstep reading “A random act of kindness to brighten a gloomy day.” Strange how nervous this made me – I did it so hastily you would think I was robbing the places. Maybe my last flower incident has traumatised me. I didn’t want to get “caught”; didn’t want to be judged; didn’t want to answer suspicious and ungrateful questions. I just wanted to imagine that each person came home after a stressful, rainy day to find a lovely bright flower on their doorstep that made them smile and wonder.

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