The recent U.S. election, Brexit, climate change, refugee crises, and other social injustices may leave you with a pit in your stomach as the New Year begins. The deep divides between the people of our nation and world seem more defined now than they have ever been. You may feel overwhelmed, you may feel like running away, and you may want to ignore what’s happening around you.
Instead of avoiding the suffering of our world, now is the time to set an intention of kindness and compassion. We can each do our part to make 2017 the year that brings our world together.
Here are some ideas for weaving kindness into 2017.
1. Start Each Day with a Kind Intention
Add “Be kind” at the top of your to-do list. You can be specific and include the person to whom you’re offering kindness, or you can simply decide to start your day with an open and kind mind (and heart). As you go throughout the day and review your task list, you’ll see “Be kind”; let it serve as a subtle but constant reminder to help you cultivate a more compassionate attitude.
2. Make Connecting a Priority
Feeling connected to others is an important aspect of living a healthy and happy life. It takes effort to stay connected to the people in your life, and you can take advantage of modern technology to help you do so. Write down the names of your friends and loved ones, and indicate next to the names whether or not you should reach out weekly, every other week, or monthly. Set alerts in your calendar to meet, call, or send text messages to those people, and notice what happens to your overall well-being when your relationships become stronger.
3. Perform Random Acts of Kindness
Have you ever been lucky enough to receive someone’s random act of kindness? It’s amazing how a stranger buying me coffee can make my day. Research indicates that the recipient of kindness isn’t the only person who benefits. The person offering kindness also gets a boost, and a person who witnesses the act of kindness also feels good. Imagine the ripple effects from small acts of kindness, and see if there’s a way you can sprinkle them into your daily life.
Thanks to mirror neurons, your smile may make someone else more joyful. Try smiling at a stranger or acquaintance, and see if you notice a lift in your own mood and their mood.
5. Express Compassion on Social Media
Have you noticed the amount of anger spewing throughout social media this past year? People can be unbelievably harsh when they can hide behind a computer screen. It’s as if they don’t recognize that actual living, breathing humans will read the comment.
Your social media interactions can counteract cyber-bullying. See if you can offer words of kindness and appreciation as opposed to stoking an argument. Even if someone’s views are not in line with yours, try to use compassion as your anchor. Recognize that this person, just like you, wants to be happy and free from suffering.
One of my good friends lives down the street from a homeless shelter, and he spends two hours every Thursday evening serving food to the shelter residents. His weekly commitment inspired me to start volunteering there with my daughter once a month, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to help others who need it.
Visit Volunteermatch.org to see if there are any shelters or nonprofits near you that could use a hand. If you don’t have time to volunteer weekly, try helping out monthly or quarterly.
7. Coordinate Dinners for a Friend in Need
Use the platform Take Them a Meal to coordinate dinners for a friend who is going through a tough time. An added dose of caring and connection can be a tremendous boost for someone who may be sick, depressed, or heartbroken.
I recently coordinated dinners for a dear friend who was diagnosed with melanoma. I know she and her family have appreciated the company and the food, and it has given me and our other friends a chance to contribute in some way.
8. Ask, “How Are You?” and Mean It
When you greet someone with, “How are you?”, he/she will most likely respond with, “I’m good.”
But is he/she truly good?
What if you follow up by saying, “No really. How are you?” Then listen with open ears and an open heart. This small gesture could prompt a genuine conversation and meaningful connection.
9. Compliment a Coworker or Neighbor
It doesn’t take much to brighten someone’s day. What if you take a little bit of time to express extra appreciation to a colleague for a job well done? Or perhaps let your neighbor know that his/her garden looks especially beautiful.
I feel like a million bucks whenever anyone on my team takes the time to offer me kind and encouraging words, so I try to be generous with my compliments toward others.
10. Self-Compassion It
Last but not least, don’t forget to include yourself in your kindness practice. Notice your inner voice and see if you can change it from being more caring and less critical. For a deeper dive into self-compassion, consider taking the Mindful Self-Compassion course created by Kristin Neff, Ph.D., and Chris Germer, Ph.D. Offered globally, this course may likely change how you respond to your own suffering and will help you become your own dear friend.