Hearts in Healthcare cofounder, Robin Youngson, offers an inspiring kindness challenge for the New Year.
On the last day of the year, how often can you say, “Yes! I kept my New Year’s resolution!”
Today, I celebrate a new practice that I have followed every single day of the year – all 365 of them! In my sixty-two years this is the first time I have succeeded in keeping a New Year’s resolution. What was the success factor? The object of my resolution was someone else, not me.
On 1st January 2017, I made a simple commitment: That each and every day in 2017, I would cherish my wife Meredith in some small or big way.
I wanted to keep a record of my acts of cherishing, to create a memento for Meredith at the end of the year. I also wanted a means to communicate each act of cherishing, including the times I was away from home. So I created a private Facebook group with only two members – me and Meredith – so nobody else can see these posts. Very few people knew I had this practice, it was just something special and intimate between the two of us.
A private Facebook group turned out to be a brilliant way of sharing special moments and messages. It’s a rich, multimedia platform where I could very easily and quickly share pictures, videos, voice recordings, links, and comments. So each day I shared a reminder of the small act of cherishing, often with a photograph taken with my phone.
This daily practice of cherishing has done something very special for our relationship: we are closer, move loving, more appreciative, more thoughtful, kinder, and more generous. The person who changed was me, Meredith already had these qualities in abundance.
I didn’t find it easy. While some days I was inspired, other days I really had to stretch my imagination to find some way to nurture, support or indulge Meredith. The results were hit and miss; in the beginning I found it hard to predict what would delight her and what would merely please. However, the deliberate practice and commitment meant that every single day I spent time thinking about another, rather than being self-centred.
My focus needed to be quite particular, carefully noticing Meredith’s preferences, wants and desires and fulfilling these on a daily basis. I really had to pay attention because it’s the small things that are more important than the grand gestures. I made notes because these little personal likes and preferences are not things I ordinarily would have remembered.
As a mother, Meredith has spent much of her lifetime taking care of children, elderly parents, and many other friends and neighbours. To find herself the recipient of that kind of cherishing was deeply meaningful, she says.
The changes in me go far beyond our marriage. Meredith notices that I am kinder, more thoughtful, more sensitive and more generous to family members, to my work colleagues, my patients and my friends. I offer acts of kindness and service to our community through the local Timebank, which gives me enormous pleasure. I notice changes within myself and I spend more time thinking of others. I express my appreciation and gratitude more often.
The health benefits of regular acts of kindness are extensive and well researched. Kindness increases the love hormone (oxytocin), energy, happiness, lifespan, and pleasure. Kindness decreases pain, stress, anxiety, depression and blood pressure. I recently did a 24-hour ambulatory BP measurement and my average BP was 115/75, much lower than I had expected!
What I’m not going to share are any examples of my small acts of cherishing and kindness. The greatest benefit comes from devoting time to thinking about another and being creative about how you can delight and please. That’s your job, you will have to do your own research and become more observant.
Very often, the positive psychology literature talks about ‘random acts of kindness’. I don’t like that term so much. For me, the act of kindness is much more intentional. I have to be primed for kindness, to seek opportunities, to be ready to act on the spur of a moment. The decision to pick up a hitch-hiker has to be made quickly: a moment’s hesitation and you have driven past already. Busyness and hurry are the enemies of kindness; when you slow down you become kinder.
So will you make a commitment to grow your heart in 2018? There is something special about choosing just one person and making that commitment to cherishing. The whole world will benefit.
Do I have a new resolution for 2018?
Yes, I will choose self-cherishing, self-compassion, self-love. When we become kinder, more compassionate and less judgmental to ourselves, we can offer much more love to the world.
After a year of practice, I am ready for this next challenge. I will be paying attention to the little things within myself, being more aware, being kinder, making better choices. Each day I will ask, ‘What serves?’