Other People Matter
The fourth module of Happy Habits draws directly from the idea that giving is good for the giver.
In particular, developing skills for listening with empathy, treating others with kindness and respect, and forgiving others for their misdeeds, tends to make us feel good as well.
Some years ago, the concept, random acts of kindness became popular. You were supposed to just wander around with no particular plan and find a way to be kind to strangers. If you’ve got the luxury of an unscheduled and uncluttered life, go for it. We love random kindness, but we love intentional, planned kindness even more. This is especially important if you’re about as tired and stressed as you’ve ever been.
That’s why we offer this challenge:
Break free from the “I’ll-get-to-it-when-I-can” mentality and embrace intentionality.
Being intentionally kind gives you greater personal agency. Instead of being stuck with a script someone else wrote, when you employ intentionality, you become the author of your own lines in every scene. Rather than randomly responding to occasional opportunities with kindness, you can exert your will, plan ahead, and creatively, consciously, and consistently act in kind ways.
Remember, it’s good to be your own mental mechanic, tuning up your brain to take care of yourself and others. Intentional kindness is an ongoing mental discipline focused on social behavior.
Sometimes, a stranger provides you with an opportunity to be kind.
You buy something for the person who is a few bucks short in the grocery check-out line. You notice someone dropped something. You hold open a door. You scoop the poop of someone else’s dog. You nod in a friendly way to a glaring parent, who is dragging an unwilling child along. If you set your intention and plan to be kind whenever the opportunity arises, even acts toward strangers that seem spontaneous will be acts that reflect your deeper values and character.
Maybe you’d like to intentionally be kind to a friend, a parent, or a sibling.
Again, this requires thought and the ability to step outside yourself and into another person’s world. What would your friend, parent, or sibling appreciate? Maybe you would like a second helping of dessert, but maybe they would rather have a chance to go for a walk, or appreciate a compliment on their wild but endearing hairstyle—a byproduct of being quarantined, but cute nonetheless.
You get to write your script and live your life. Write yourself into the week as a character who values kindness and who watches for opportunities to share kindness with others.
Notice and feel what happens. There’s compelling evidence that being kind will make you happier and lead to a more satisfying life. But you may need to get out of a bad mood or be kind to yourself first. Grumpy, sad, angry people have trouble being kind. Use the 3-step emotional change technique as often as needed!
Despite your best efforts, sometimes you will fail yourself and others. You’ll catch yourself not being kind. Other people will disappoint you in big ways. That’s where a skill very related to kindness comes in:
the ability to forgive.
Here’s a cool thing about forgiveness. Research indicates that it’s beneficial in two directions! It’s a very good thing to be forgiven, and it’s a very good thing to forgive. Did you know choosing to forgive reduces your blood pressure, boosts your immune system, and increases the likelihood of, well, let’s just say nice intimate moments?
Some people might think humans aren't genetically predisposed to forgive because getting even or seeking revenge provides instant gratification. We see their point, but there’s evidence to the contrary. Humans are social beings, and need each other to survive. Given that humans mess up intentionally and unintentionally on an almost constant basis, without the ability to forgive and move on, humans would already be extinct. You CAN forgive. You’ve got the raw material. It just isn't easy.
And here’s an added, sometimes unwelcome, fact:
You can forgive, even if the other person isn't sorry.
You can release the pain of injury, the embarrassment of the insult, the raging anger of the injustice. You can let it go. You don’t have to plague yourself with thoughts of revenge and how to get even. You don’t have to occupy your mind with elaborate fantasies of the other person’s untimely and painful demise.
We admit that it’s harder to forgive than to nurse along with a self-righteous grudge. And some people claim it’s foolish to forgive. But forgiving isn't a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of intelligence.
Writer Anne LaMott said,
“Failing to forgive is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.”
Wallowing in unfairness, dwelling on injured feelings, and fanning the flames of revenge might get you short-term satisfaction. But long-term all that wallowing, dwelling, and fanning gets you sleepless nights, more conflict, bad moods, high blood pressure, and a shorter, and more unpleasant life.
But remember, as you forgive, you don’t have to forget.
Some relationships and situations are repeatedly harmful. Forgiving doesn't mean you should stay in painful relationships or put up with verbal or physical abuse. If someone keeps hurting you, get the distance. Protect yourself. Being repeatedly offended or hurt might give you practice in forgiving, but no one needs that. Life brings plenty of opportunities to forgive. You need to take care of yourself and your loved ones.
Well-lived lives involve intentional kindness and intelligent forgiveness. These values contribute to the health and well-being of others.
Here’s an important addendum: Other people matter, and sometimes, you are other people.
Drawing from the scholarly realms of Alexander Pope and the Wizard of Oz:
To make mistakes and offend is easy. To forgive, now that’s a horse of a different color.