“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.” ~Oscar Wilde
It’s the small, everyday things that can make or break a day for us.
While we celebrate the role models who inspire thousands (in person or on Facebook!), for most of us everyday moments—a stranger jostling us in the shops, a car cutting us up at a light, someone pushing in front of us in line at the post office—can upset us out of all proportion.
But the flip side is that we can also be disproportionately pleased by the small actions of a stranger.
On a bad day recently, rushing down the road in Chiang Mai, Thailand, late for an appointment, I dropped my bag and things spilled all over the road. I looked at my possessions spread out in the dust beneath me and held back tears.
As I stood there, a Thai woman, tending a food cart at the side of the road, walked over and carefully helped me pick everything up. Then she smiled at me, patted my hand, and walked back to her stall.
This small act of kindness from a stranger reminded me to be kind to myself in turn, and I took a breath before continuing with my day, lighter in heart and mind.
Be that stranger. Here are three small acts of kindness you can carry out today.
Offer your help.
Last year I met someone who challenged himself to offer his help to one person every day.
One day, I was really ill, in a foreign country, alone. I had no way of getting to the shops. He offered his help and brought me groceries. It was a small thing for him. But I was hugely grateful, and it made a real impact on me, this almost-stranger providing practical help.
Now I try and offer my help more often.
At first I used to think no one would be interested in my help, or they’d be suspicious, or a hundred other reasons which stopped me offering. But even when people don’t need it, they appreciate being offered help.
I offered someone help with something they were carrying yesterday, and while he turned the help down, we exchanged a joke and a few words, and both of us went on our way happier.
And when people do need the help, you’ll be amazed at the long lasting impact it can have.
Be of service. Offer assistance.
Say thank you.
You might say thank you a hundred times a day. It’s a politeness, a courtesy. But how many times do you actually mean it? How many times are you still engaged in the conversation when you say it, and not turning away toward the next thing?
I have a friend who, when she writes birthday cards, doesn’t just write the usual “To Sarah, Happy Birthday, Love Mary,” but takes the time to write her friend a more heartfelt message.
She includes in that message some of the things she is grateful to the friend for doing for her that year. Getting a card from her doesn’t feel like a formality, it feels like a true connection. And her cards are the ones I remember.
Today, say thank you like you mean it. Catch the other person’s eye and say it firmly. “Thank you. I really appreciate your help.” It could be to the girl who serves you your caramel macchiato in Starbucks, or your dad for helping you out by putting that shelf up for you.
Or if face-to-face feels too personal or intimate, write a letter or a card to a friend thanking them for something specific they contributed to the friendship last year—their joy, their lightness of touch, the great presents they always buy you, their sense of humor.
Be grateful, and share that gratitude with the other person.
We judge others in our head all the time, just as we judge ourselves all the time. “I hate that dress she’s wearing; I look fat in that mirror; I can’t believe she just said that; that nail varnish is awful; he really can’t do that yoga pose…” It’s a constant narrative.
But we also think positive things in the same way: “I love that skirt; I wish my hair was that color; those shoes are great; he does a great downward dog; I wish I was that confident.”
In my last job, particularly when I was feeling negative (and knew it might leak out), I used to push myself to articulate the compliments I usually just said in my head. Sometimes the person I was complimenting was a little taken aback, but they were always pleased.
Put your focus on the positive by expressing it. Tell someone what you like, admire, appreciate. Share the love.
These actions might seem small, but not only do they make others’ lives better, they are also directly nourishing for you. Being kind is good for your health.
Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt