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I recently spoke at a youth leadership conference where I facilitated a workshop and delivered a keynote presentation. The discussion centered on the so-called "pursuit of happiness" by sharing principles and practices for building a positive personal mindset and positive social connections at home, at school, at work, and in the community.Perhaps what I enjoy most about these sessions is that while I go in with a few key takeaways planned, each participant brings with them their own stories, experiences, and ideas that collectively add to the learning experience.Choose KindnessAn overriding theme from this particular session was the value of kindness. In fact, when one student asked me to summarize everything that we had just experienced together I immediately responded with what I’m growing to understand and appreciate to be one of the foundational pillars of a positive, happy life, which is to choose kindness.In my evolving research on this topic I’ve come to find that this idea can be broken down into two simple truths:
These are simple yet profound truths, and when we accept them, and act on their implications, they can create a profound positive ripple effect for our lives and for all those within our sphere of influence.6 Kindness Principles & PracticesWhat follows is a list of six ideas that outline what it means to be kind. This list is comprised of two principles (axioms that are assumed to be self-evident), and four practices (suggested strategies to employ in everyday life). This is not meant to be a scholarly report, though I do at times cite relevant research; rather, this is meant to provide an overview of ideas to stir your curiosity and inspire you to immediately try and challenge these concepts yourself.In no particular order, here are six ways to be kind:
- You matter, so be kind to yourself.
- Other people matter, so be kind to others.
1. The Most Important Person In Your Life Is You
You are the only person who will always be there for you. People may come and go throughout life, and even your most loved family and friends and most trusted confidants may not always be around, out of no fault of their own. Stay true to yourself. Say what needs to be said. Do what needs to be done. Make the difficult choices. You are the most important person in your life, so in your pursuit of happiness remember to be kind to yourself.
2. Everyone Is You In Disguise
Kind words can change lives. They may even save lives. Everyone is fighting a battle of some kind, and many people suffer in silence. You will never know when someone is on the edge of losing their silent battle, so when you have the choice to respond with resentment or kindness, always choose kindness. In your pursuit of happiness, remember to be kind to others, because everyone is merely you in disguise. It’s worth repeating: everyone is you in disguise.
3. Invest In A Positive Support SystemThe happiest people are resilient people, and the most resilient people are the ones with a solid positive support system. These are your closest family, friends, confidants, mentors, coaches, teachers, and the like. They are the people who love you, who care about your well-being, are invested in your success, and who have your best interests in mind regardless of what they stand to gain or lose because of you. These are the people who will offer their ears when you need to talk, offer their shoulders when you need to cry, and offer their words when you need advice. These are the people who won’t necessarily tell you what you want to hear, but they will tell you what you need to hear. Investing in a support system creates a kindness loop that, once started, is not easily stopped. This is because what goes around truly does comes around. As you step up to support your core group, the right ones will step up to support you as well. In your pursuit of happiness be sure to invest in high value relationships that will serve as your positive support system.
4. Beware Of The Victim Mindset
Some people gain “negative pleasure” by oversharing their troubles. Pity parties demand company, and any amount of attention is a welcomed guest for these people. The trouble is that these folks are so content with complaining about their problems—almost as if they relish in them—that they have no real desire to do anything about it. This is not to suggest that we write off the genuine plight that they experience. To be sure, people who take pleasure in feeding their victim mentality are truly in a tough spot, because in order to get out of it it’s going to require them to sacrifice the pleasure they derive from the negative attention. There’s a high cost of success, and not everyone is so eager to accept that invitation, regardless of the opportunities they’re presented with. How do you properly deal with these individual’s? There’s no definitive answer to this problem. On the one hand you want to be kind and help people, but on the other hand these people don’t really want help. On top of this, watching these people willingly stay stagnant in their suffering can be at best frustrating and at worst draining for your own well-being. Your answer to dealing with these folks can only be decided by you on a case-by-case basis, depending on who the person is, the relationship you have with them, and the seriousness of their issues. So in your pursuit of happiness remember to keep an eye out for these pity parties, and work to discern how best to handle it. At the very least, be aware of when you yourself fall into this negative mindset. We all do from time to time, and being aware of the warning signs can do wonders for your overall experience of happiness.
5. Remember To Be Polite
A simple “Please” and a simple “Thank You” costs nothing, yet can open more doors to happiness than any amount of rudeness, insensitivity, or aloofness ever will. No one likes to be ordered around, yet when given the opportunity most everyone enjoys helping others in need. By simply changing your script, and how you say those words, you can shift the energy of a situation from hostility to gratitude. This is not to suggest that you should come across as weak or timid. It reveals a person of great character to confidently yet politely lead others, so in your pursuit of happiness remember to be polite.
6. Remember To Smile Smiling lets others know that you’re likeable, that you want to help, and that you’re approachable. It’s a passive act of kindness that costs nothing yet can open floodgates of possibilities. Charles Darwin once suggested that “the free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it,” and this is certainly true for the feel-good emotions evoked by smiling, and modern science supports this claim. Studies have shown that the mere activation of the facial muscles needed to form a smile (the zygomaticus major and orbicularis oculi muscles) sends signals to the brain saying that the mood is good, and the same has been show with forcing out a laugh, and at the very least blocking a frown. Best of all, this has been proven to work even when you don’t already feel happy. The mere act of smiling will eventually boost your mood regardless of what’s going on around you. Lastly, smiling is contagious. Seeing people smile stimulates “mirror neurons” that suppress your facial muscle control, triggering you to smile. Want to be happy? Surround yourself with people who smile. Want to make other people happy? Smile! In your pursuit of happiness remember to put your best foot forward with a smile.
Final ThoughtsWe are all fighting some kind of battle and we often never know the unseen battles that others may be going through. Choosing to be kind to others in our everyday life—whether through the six practices shared here or by using your own strategies—you'll be sure to encourage positive experiences for yourself and for those you lead.I’d love to hear your thoughts on these—whether you agree or disagree with them, what your experience has been applying them, and if there’s perhaps something that you think should be added to this list. Leave a comment below or send me an email to email@example.com. I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to share!
- What concept from this list do you already employ? What have been your results?
- What did you find most surprising from this list?
- What’s missing? Is there anything you might wish to add?
- What idea are you most excited to try out right away? How will you apply it?