Not too long ago, when I was feeling very stressed and discontent, I came across a Facebook post about Harvard Researcher Shawn Achor and the 21-Day Happiness Challenge. I watched the TED Talk that went along with the article, in which Achor stated that the research shows that we can rewire our brain for happiness by completing five exercises for 21 days.
Feeling more optimistic after encountering the post and video (Maybe it was working already!), I decided to commit to practicing the exercises each day for the 21 days. However, I misread the article, so I ended up doing all of five of the exercise every day, instead of just picking one; maybe that was a good mistake or the universe telling me I needed serious help! They include exercising, meditating, writing three things that you are grateful for, spending a couple of minutes writing about a positive experience and, finally, writing one positive email to praise or thank someone as a random act of kindness.
I was surprised with the results. Writing about three things I was grateful for over the past 24 hours was helpful in shifting my focus, as was writing about a positive experience. But the exercise that has the biggest impact on my happiness and leaves me feeling amazing for hours or days afterwards is the random act of kindness.
The first random act of kindness that I did was to write a letter to my husband telling him all the things that I love about him. I must admit it was tough to write initially because I had been mad at him; the last thing I wanted to do was a write a letter of gratitude! But it had a HUGE emotional payback because I realized how I often overlooked all his positive qualities, how often I glazed over the helpful things he did for me, instead focusing on the things I was not happy with or thought he should improve on. By shifting my focus to love and gratitude for my husband, it has shifted our marriage and we are still feeling the positive effects months later.
My next random act of kindness was done privately. I decided to write a letter of gratitude to my employer solely for me, not to send to the company. People I work with had done a few things recently that I was very unhappy about, and was I contemplating resigning to find a new job. I wrote the letter focusing on all of the things I was grateful for, recalling how difficult things were financially before I was hired, how we were not able to cover basic necessities without the pay I now received. I mentioned the flexibility in my schedule that I enjoy, and the fact that I no longer work 12-hour shifts, weekends or holidays. I was filled with a newfound sense of peace and gratitude for my job and the things that I had been taking for granted. It helped me to put things into a new perspective, and I was able to see all of the positive aspects of my position, as well as an acceptance that with all the good things sometimes comes a few “bad” things, too. While the company may not have benefited from me actually sending the letter, my coworkers certainly benefited from my improved outlook, my positive attitude and a renewed desire to do well.
Buoyed by the powerful experience of my first two letters, I looked for and then found many opportunities to continue with the random acts of kindness—opportunities that I would have missed or not taken advantage of in the past. For instance, I expressed a newfound gratitude for the car dealership where I take my vehicle for service. In addition to washing and vacuuming my car, the dealer has a complimentary car service that dropped me off and picked me up at my desired location so I would not have to wait for the oil change.
I started viewing everything through a more positive lens.
There was the survey at a restaurant where I could provide positive feedback on my dining experience, a harried waitress I could leave a generous tip for, a trip to the store where I could make a donation, the opportunity to pick up and pay for a needed prescription for one of my patients who could otherwise not afford. Each situation provided a new opportunity for kindness!
I also realized how previously I would only speak up about unpleasant experiences.
I had been missing out on so many positive uplifting experiences, not just for myself but also all the other people whom I had an impact on, even if only for a brief time. As if the inner peace and joy I was now feeling wasn’t enough incentive to continue to practice kindness, I began to notice that people also were going out of their way to help me. I became the recipient of random acts of kindness, receiving what I had been giving. Small acts of kindness can change the world.
We rise by lifting others. —Robert Ingersol
Ann Darwicki, RN is a Certified Professional Life Coach who completed her training at the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching. She is the owner and founder of Whole Being Coaching, specializing in coaching others to live the life of their dreams. Prior to becoming a life coach, Ann obtained as Associate’s Degree in Nursing from Delaware Technical and Community College. She has 25 years of nursing experience caring for women and children, with a lifelong affinity for holistic medicine. She is a Reiki practitioner and Nurse Luminary. She is also a freelance writer. She can be reached at 302-750-0574 or by email at email@example.com.