I recently received a kind invitation. I attended a workshop, hosted by Ugg and Deckers Brands, to learn about the #BeKind21 Campaign, an initiative launched by the Born this Way Foundation, the foundation of the one and only Lady Gaga.
#BeKind21 is Born this Way Foundation’s annual challenge to enter the fall season building a habit of kindness. Based on the understanding that it takes 21 days to develop a habit, the kindness challenge encourages us to be kind to ourselves, our loved ones and our communities for the first 21 days of September.
Recent research tells us that performing acts of kindness has many benefits. Not only does kindness make us and others feel good, acts of kindness change the circuitry of our brains.
When we engage in kindness, we create neural pathways that enhance feelings of well-being and happiness, and the natural flow of feel-good endorphins and mood elevating neurotransmitters.
Kindness has also been found by researchers to be the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage or long-term relationship. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood and validated. It’s literally the glue that keeps couples together.
And, studies show that kindness is contagious. Researchers at Cambridge University, the University of Plymouth and UCLA found that individuals who witness an act of kindness among other people felt such positive feelings that it caused them to do something altruistic themselves.
After the workshop, I came home and talked to my daughters about #BeKind21. After explaining a few times that I did not actually meet Lady Gaga, we were able to focus on how we each could spread kindness in our daily lives. We talked about simple steps we could take to make kindness an integral part of our respective days in the month of September.
My girls were excited to share their snacks with friends, to say “hi” to new kids in their dance class, and to help their classmates when they had questions. I thought about the different ways that I could incorporate kindness into my day – with colleagues, with friends and family, or anyone I bumped into throughout my day.
The good news is that kindness is a value that I hold dear. But, taking the time to think about a specific way I could be kind each day was a new practice. And, a fun one at that!
Some simple ways that I have spread kindness in recent weeks include:
» Thinking about someone I appreciate or am grateful for, and then taking a moment during the day to send them a quick email or text letting them know what they mean to me
» Apologizing to someone I have hurt
» Forgiving someone who has hurt me
» Finding a kind word (or at least a kind thought!) in the midst of a conflict
» Giving genuine compliments to people I encounter throughout my day, especially other working mommas
» Being genuinely happy for other people’s successes
» Telling my children three things I love about them before bedtime
But, the biggest learning for me was the importance of spreading some of that kindness to myself. Taking a much-needed break after a busy day to walk on the beach or turning down an event invitation even though it would be fun or losing myself in a novel rather than folding the laundry.
These are simple things, but they can be very hard for me. I’m learning that as a “helper,” I can only be at my best for others if I am proactively taking care of myself.
As Emily Esfahani Smith shares, “There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you can think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise.”
I myself think of kindness as a muscle. I need to exercise it to keep it in shape. Throughout my 21-day experiment, I learned that kindness fostered happiness – for me and for my daughters. Hopefully, it has become a new habit that we will carry forward. And, for that, I am sincerely grateful.
— Alana Walczak is CEO of the nonprofit CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), a leader in developing programs and services that effectively treat child abuse and promote healing, as well as programs that help prevent abuse through family strengthening and support. Click here for more information, or call 805.965.2376. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.