How kind are you? Seriously. On a scale of one to ten, where would you rate your kindness level? Wondering what this has to do with a happier life?
How often do you show appreciation? Are you gracious to others? Do you practice patience or speak compliments? Does the Golden Rule echo in your actions?
Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Matthew 7:12, The Message
Would your family or coworkers give you the same rating as you are giving yourself? And could all of this truly lead you to more happiness?
The Book on Kindness
It’s been a while since I’ve spent a post recommending a book, but that’s not because I haven’t been reading great books! My To Read list is about as long as usual even though I’m striving to read more books than I buy — a losing battle, I’m afraid.
One of my favorite authors is Shaunti Feldhahn. I’ve met her a couple of times and found her to be as gracious in person as she comes across in her books. She’s a research analyst who digs into the numbers we hear so carelessly tossed around in media and brings insight and solutions to the world we live in.
So, knowing that I’ve learned a lot from her, I was interested when I heard she had a new book coming out. But check out the full title:
The Kindness Challenge:
Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship
Sure, strengthening my marriage is always a good idea. The bonds between my kids and I, awesome. My closest friends, maybe I’ll glean some fresh ideas. But that one that irritates me? Do I even want to go there?
The surprising thing she found: Our level of happiness has more to do with how we treat others than how we are treated. As it turns out, happiness is totally tied to kindness.
The Habits That Hurt
Of course, before she could really help us be more kind, she had to remove the blinders that we all wear. She had to talk about the places where we are unkind.
Perhaps you think you are doing pretty good. So did Shaunti. She writes:
Before I started this book, I would have sworn that I was rarely negative — until I began the research in depth and started cataloging all the different types of negativity and ways it can play out. And I saw, “Oh my goodness, I do that … and that … and that …
Maybe you see yourself in some of these negative characteristics she identifies:
- Assuming something will be hard
- Pointing out someone’s mistakes
- Rolling your eyes or sighing in exasperation
- Saying or thinking, “What were you thinking?” or “What have you done for me lately?”
- Very frequent good-natured teasing or sarcasm
- Beating yourself up for what you did or didn’t do
- Venting to someone else about a specific person or group
- Pulling away or checking out of a conversation
- Being suspicious of another’s behavior, words, or actions
- Thinking worst-case scenarios
Oh, she lists more, so if you don’t see yourself in those suggestions you’re not off the hook completely.
The Habits That Lead to a Happier Life
To really turn things around, though, you need to practice new habits. Basically, Shaunti found three things that will make a difference in your relationships, and they are simpler than you realize. Once you clean out the ways you are unkind to people around you,
- Nix the Negatives
- Practice Praise
- Carry Out Kindness
That’s it. Say nothing negative, find one positive thing each day you can say, and do one act of kindness or generosity for the person you are focusing on.
How many of you just thought about how hard that would be? Or rolled your eyes? Or thought, “But what about him being nice to me?”
Caught you being negative!
The Kindness Challenge
Because her research was so overwhelmingly positive, Shaunti’s thrown down the gauntlet: Try it. For thirty days.
I took her up on it, even signing up for the daily email to give me tips, hints, and encouragement. I wanted this to be a true test, so I didn’t tell my spouse that he was my target.
To be completely transparent, we were in a period of working on our relationship, being more purposeful to spend time together, but what better time to try out what she recommends? I will also tell you that I was careful not to read the book around him so he wouldn’t get prematurely suspicious.
You might say I started at a bit of a disadvantage because I was only about one-quarter of the way through the book when I jumped on board, but the results were still amazing. After two days, I noticed a difference in me. After three days, he began reciprocating.
Pretty stunning considering he had no idea what I was doing.
The Challenge Continues
I’ve finished the thirty days focusing on my husband, and I am now turning my attention to others around me. I want the lessons I learned through the book to stick in my habits and to spread through my family and friends. Maybe even to those difficult relationships I’d rather avoid.
And I challenge you to join me. Pick up the book and put the research to work for you. Let’s change the world for the better, one relationship at a time.
Feldhahn, Shaunti. The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship. Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook, 2016. Print. Page 66.