“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Aesop
There’s being nice, and there’s practicing kindness. Kindness is more generous and transformative. Practicing true kindness means accepting a certain level of personal sacrifice. It can require us to do something we find unpleasant, challenging, or draining because this act benefits someone else. For example, parents regularly sacrifice for their children even when they are feeling drained themselves.
It’s important to remember, though, that not all acts of transformative kindness come from struggle and sacrifice. Activities that naturally bring us joy can also give joy to others. This helps us maintain a healthy internal balance and a meaningful connection while caring for another person.
When Joy Equals Kindness
My sister, a busy and successful professional, loves to color; it relaxes her and provides her with a creative outlet. One year, she colored a lovely picture of a heart, which she framed and gave to her daughter as a Valentine’s Day gift. My niece now has a beautiful, handmade keepsake from her Mom hanging in her room that brings her joy. By pursuing an activity that brings her happiness, my sister also created something lovely and meaningful for her daughter.
My friend, a thoughtful intellectual with many interests, loves to read online blogs and articles. She regularly sends me links to pieces I enjoy but wouldn’t necessarily find on my own. By following her own passion and sharing her finds with me, I directly benefit from an activity that gives her joy. Her reading is an act of self-care for her, and a happiness boost for me.
Love = continual sacrifice?
Popular wisdom tells us that only through personal sacrifice can we express true care and concern for another person. This is certainly true some of the time, but it’s easy to take this too far. We can overlook the power and importance of generosity that blossoms from activities that truly give us joy. Creating and living in a world of love and thoughtfulness is not a zero-sum game in which it is only possible to increase another’s happiness by depleting our own.
Thinking that all true acts of kindness and generosity require personal pain and suffering creates a world with a lot of martyrs but does not necessarily increase the amount of love or generosity in the world. The martyr may get a short-term boost out of sacrificing for others, but it comes at a long-term cost to themselves.
Beware of Martyrdom
According to Dr. Pamela Yarcy, living like a martyr could also mean abdicating “responsibility for your happiness“. When you behave like a martyr, you give your power away. This includes the power to solve your own problems and to learn new ways of responding to your emotions of anger, depression, fear, shame, guilt, or embarrassment.”
While sacrifice is necessary from time to time, it is critical to remember that it comes at a cost. Sacrifice taxes our reserves of energy, patience, and good will. Sacrifice that is repeated over and over without paying attention to our need for joy and comfort builds anger, frustration, and resentment. Because of this, it is important to balance sacrificial acts of kindness and love with good will that benefits everyone – ourselves as well as those we care for.
Happiness for Two
What better way to resist martyrdom, take charge of your happiness, and enhance the happiness of others than by sharing the results of an activity you love? For example, we are good friends with our neighbors, but don’t see each other often due to busy schedules. We share a love of baking. In between get-togethers, we will often make and leave a favorite baked good on the other’s doorstep. At any time, one of us might receive a text with the message “yummy coconut bars in your mailbox!” or “blueberry muffins on your doorstep!”. It’s a fun and sweet (ha!) way to show our appreciation and maintain a thoughtful connection between get-togethers.
It’s also important to consider the following…
Doing things you enjoy makes you happier, and just the act of being happy yourself can positively affect those around you. Happiness – like all emotions – is contagious.
Happiness is contagious
Doing things you enjoy makes you happier, and just the act of being happy yourself can positively affect those around you. Happiness – like all emotions – is contagious. Jessica Cerretani, a former assistant editor of Harvard Medicine, says, “When you make positive changes in your own life, those effects ripple out from you and you can find yourself surrounded by the very thing you fostered.”
Reframing: from harried to happy
Making small changes in how you spend your time each day can subtly shift your perspective on your available resources of time and energy. How often do you go through your day convinced that you are barely hanging on – feeling overwhelmed, depleted, and resentful?
Instead of resigning yourself to this state of things, how can you change your life to accommodate your needs and help someone else? Consider slightly reworking your schedule to include 10-15 minutes engaging in an activity you enjoy that also benefits someone else. Browse a book store, purchase a book you’re excited about, and buy a copy for a good friend as a surprise random-act-of-kindness gift. Take a 15-minute walk break on a nice day and invite a harried co-worker to join you.
We can easily overlook the power and importance of generosity that blossoms from activities that truly give us joy and. This small shift in how you spend your time can help reframe your perception that you are perpetually maxed out and impossibly stuck. You’ll start to see opportunities to boost your own happiness and reduce stress while also improving the life of someone you care about.
What is your kindness super power?
To live meaningful lives that are sustainable and authentic to who we really are, it is important to find a balance between extending ourselves to help another despite the personal cost and respecting our individual boundaries and values enough to say “no” when necessary. In between these two challenging extremes lies a “sweet spot” of personal joy and fun that benefits everyone. Whenever possible, choose happiness. It’s worth it.
What do you love to do? What activities give you a happiness and energy boost? How can you choose joy and share the fruits of this activity with someone else?