November 13th is World Kindness Day, a day for us all to come together to consider the ways in which we can all help to make the world a kinder place. I’ve been celebrating it since I first became aware of it in 2011 when my own exploration into the remarkable power of acts of kindness began. This year it feels even more important than ever for us to be kind to ourselves and others as we each manage the challenging and uncertain landscape ahead.
So many of us feel overwhelmed, right now. In the face of the huge challenges many of us are experiencing, it’s easy to feel powerless and despairing. Whenever I start feeling like this, I come back to this quote from Brad Meltzer, “Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always”. It reminds me to always have compassion for others and that kindness is always the answer. I promise you, whatever is going on for you, being kind will change things for the better.
In his recent book, Human Kind, Dutch Historian Rutger Bregman argues that humans evolved to be what he calls ‘pro-social’. In order to survive, we have had to cooperate and trust each other, to be kind, to love and care for each other. Yet we so often hear and share a bleaker version of the story of us: and it makes us fearful, causes division and anxiety. If we can learn to believe in human kindness and altruism and learn to trust each other we can achieve true and meaningful changes in our relationships and in society as a whole.
Practising kindness on a daily basis introduces you to a different version of the world. Really focusing on being kinder can fundamentally change the stories we tell and share about ourselves and others which in turn helps us to feel more hopeful that as challenging as things are, a better world is possible, and that we can all contribute to it. World Kindness Day offers us an opportunity for once to fill our social media feeds with joyful, inspiring stories of love, kindness and compassion, instead of conflict, discord and anger. This isn’t a fairy-tale version of human beings, we are as complex as life is, but that complexity includes kindness, empathy, love and compassion. We just don’t hear those stories as often and because of this, we’re in danger of losing hope and faith in each other.
It’s interesting to ponder: do the stories you tell yourself serve you and make you happy, or do they make you fearful and anxious? Hearing stories of kindness, or even better, being part of these stories ourselves, boosts serotonin and dopamine, the neurotransmitters in the brain that give you the warm glow of well-being, lighting up the pleasure and reward centres in your brain. Acts of kindness can also release endorphins, a natural pain killer. Allowing yourself to connect with kindness can literally help lift yours out of a low mood. Even when things are tough, there is always something you can do to make things better. It needn’t need much time or money to do something nice for someone or indeed for yourself. It just needs you to find the courage to try it, and the rewards are immediate and transformative.
So, to help get the ball rolling, for World Kindness Day, I’ve got some ideas of fun and COVID proof things you can try. It’s worth emphasising the fun part – giving yourself permission to find pleasure in being kind is really important, kindness should bring you joy too, it shouldn’t be seen as a chore but as an act of love. Right now, when things seem so dark, you can discover the real magic and power of kindness: it can make a bad day good, put a smile on a sad face, bring comfort to a lonely heart or bring hope to a despairing soul. If you don’t believe me, try it…
A lot of the things I used to practise as daily acts of kindness aren’t appropriate now: but it made me think about the opportunities for the kindness that the pandemic has revealed. Here are some ideas: you will no doubt have some of your own brilliant ones – so think of these as a starter kit.
- Create a Hope Box. I made myself a box of reminders of all the things that cheer me up and make life worth living as a way of being kind to myself. My box includes objects, words, images, photos, old tickets all sorts of bits and pieces that I can reach for them whenever I need to take care of myself and to remind myself of all the things, I’m grateful for.
- Window dressing. Fill your windows with funny, kind, inspiring quotes or drawings for passers-by on World Kindness Day – explore your creative side.
- Revive the art of letter writing. Imagine how lovely it is to receive a handwritten letter instead of a pizza delivery leaflet or a bill? Think of someone who’d really appreciate you taking the time to sit down and writing to them rather just texting ‘Wassup?’.
- Send a hug through the post. For this, you need a roll of paper and a marker pen. Lay outstretched on the paper and get someone to draw around your outstretched hug. Post it to a loved one. Not as good as the real thing, but pretty good. This is a great one to do with kids as well. Imagine how lovely it would be for a grandparent to receive a hug from their grandchild in the post.
- Create a playlist. Nothing moves people more than music, so why not send someone a link to the songs and music that you find uplifting and pass on the joy.
- Send a care package. A friend recently sent me one of these: it had sweets, a face mask and a book of poetry. So simple and beautiful to receive.
- Help clean up your local area. Do something kind for the environment. Channel your inner Womble, put some gloves on and pick up some litter in your local park or green space. You’ll be amazed at how many people thank you and how many people you inspire to do the same.
- Feed the birds. If you can do this regularly, you’ll find your feathered friends will wait for you. Feed them things like black sunflower seeds, fatballs and oatmeal – visit rsbp.org.uk for details.
- Pet plan. Offer to walk someone’s dog who can’t get out and get some daily exercise. Or join borrowmydoggy.com and volunteer your dog walking skills
- Hello gorgeous. Leave an uplifting chalk message or an inspiring quote on the pavement to make someone smile.
Lastly, don’t forget to wave! We can’t see each other smile or say hello with masks on! Look after yourself and each other and share your stories of kindness with us on the day – I hope you have lots of fun joining in. Kindness can change the world, and you can be part of that change.