Random Acts of Kindness

163 - Kindness“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted” - AESOP

Not such a long time ago, in a toll-booth not so very far away,  a woman in a red Honda full of Christmas presents, about to cross the San Francisco Bay Bridge, paid the toll not only for herself but also for the next six cars.

One after another, the drivers of the next six cars were told they didn’t have to pay, as a lady in a previous car had already paid for them. It turned out the woman in the Honda had earlier read the phrase “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” written on a card stuck on a friend’s fridge, and liked the idea so much she thought she’d give it a go.

Another woman, Judy Foreman, saw the same phrase graffitied on a wall and mentioned it to her husband, Frank. Frank was a teacher and also liked the phrase, putting it on a notice in his classroom to help inspire his pupils. One of the pupil’s parents was a columnist at a local newspaper and after being told about the phrase, decided to use it in a short article in the newspaper.

After reading this article, the writer Anne Herbert was so inspired by the idea she decided to write it on a table mat in a Sausalito restaurant – and, this convoluted and unlikely sounding story is often cited as the origin of the phrase random acts of kindness‘.

Unlike the origin, the idea itself is straightforward – by practicing more kindness to others in our everyday lives, we can help create ‘cycles of kindness’.

We’re probably all familiar with the idea of ‘cycles of violence’, that violence perpetrated on one person by another increases the chance that person too will too go on to commit violence against others. This is considered a factor in both armed conflict and domestic violence, there is a strong desire to ‘get even’, and if not with the one who harmed us, then someone else.

There is plenty of evidence that many other behaviors can be learned and spread the same way, including kindness.

Deliberate kindness seems to be an idea whose time has arrived, with many individuals, families, groups and communities around the world actively trying to be kinder in their everyday lives:

In the Bay Area, the Haswell family have brought together over two hundred volunteers to spread kindness at local events.

Just before Christmas a customer in a Canadian coffee shop brought a coffee for the person behind them in the line, who then went on to do likewise for the person behind then. Amazingly, the next 228 people did the same !

Instead of having a party, Syed Muzamil Hasan Zaidi decided to do 22 random acts of kindness across Islamabad, Pakistan to celebrate his 22nd birthday.

Bob, founder of the Million Acts of Kindness website is currently spending a year cycling around the perimeter of the USA, visiting schools along the route to promote kindness between pupils.

A Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has been set-up, promoting the virtue of being kind, and is now running educational workshops in Colorado schools.

The comedian Danny Wallace wrote a best selling book promoting the concept, and suggesting that people commit to carrying out one random act of kindness every Friday.

And any internet search will find hundreds of people interested in doing more random acts of kindness, or offering suggestions for kind things to do.

If you think this sounds just a bit too soft and fluffy, there is also a lot of serious investigation ongoing into understanding and teaching kindness, amid evidence that experience of kindness has a definite positive effect on public health and pro-social behaviors.

The most interesting and amazing thing is that it boosts not only the person receiving the kindness, but also the person being kind.

Something to think about when you have the option to give way at your next road junction on the way home . . .

“Ask yourself have I been kind today ? Be kind everyday and change your world” – ANNIE LENOX

[More Ideas for ‘making a difference’ in The Year I Saved the World]

    

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Photo by Katerha, via Flickr

10 Ways to be Happier Today

162 - happinessFeeling a little glum lately ?

You’re not alone. The long and cold month of January can be a struggle for a lot of people, once the festive fun of Christmas and the New Year is over, and real life, real work, real problems and real bank balances return.

In addition the further north you are the less daylight you see over the winter months, with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) being a real, but often unacknowledged, problem for up to ten percent of the population.

The depressing effects of the winter are very real in northern climes, not just due to the reduction in sunlight, but also because we tend to get less physical activity and social interaction, due to the poorer weather and darkness. We also often pick this time of year to try and reinvent ourselves with New Year resolutions and promises of healthier lifestyles, which can just put us under further stress !

As I’ve written before, happiness is a hot topic at the moment, as any lunchtime spent browsing in a bookshop will confirm, which is probably as much to do with the current austerity as anything else, but it does open up a conversation about all sorts of interesting things – including community relationships, work-life balance, materialism and consumerism.

If you could do with a few mid-week and mid-winter suggestions to cheer yourself-up then look no further, but remember just reading about how to be happier isn’t actually going to help – if we want to change we’re actually going to have to DO something.

1 – Get a Bit More Exercise

Our modern sedentary lifestyles mean that we spend most of our days just sitting – changing locations from our car, to our desk , to our sofa. There’s plenty of research showing that exercise has a significant positive effect on mood and can help reduce depression. Even short amounts of regular exercise can help, boosting self esteem, shifting our mental focus and encouraging social interaction, with exercise outside also making the most of what little sunlight there is. In addition physical exercise causes your body to release endorphins, which give rise to feelings of well being, pain relief and relaxation.

2 – Brighten Up Your Environment

Our physical surroundings also play a significant role in affecting our mood. Making a change and brightening things-up, or even just a bit of decluttering or cleaning, can have a tremendous positive effect – as it not only reduces visual reminders of things left undone, or still to do, but also helps us begin to exercise more control over our environment, which is an important aspect of our wellbeing. Increasing the amount of light available might also be a good idea, especially if you are prone to SAD, perhaps try a spot of DIY light therapy.

3 – Get Out of the House

When its dark and the weather’s miserable it can be easy to get into the habit of never leaving the house. Make an effort to get out more – to public spaces like cafes, or just to have a short walk around. As well as helping provide a bit more exercise and social contact, regularly changing our environment is shown to have a positive effect on mood, as new visual surroundings stimulate our interest and tend to distract our focus away from ourselves.

4 – Get Organised

Having control over our lives is an important part of our wellbeing, and with increasingly complex and fragmented lifestyles, a sense of disorganisation, chaos, or having too much to do, can all contribute to a feeling of being overwhelmed. Taking small, definite steps to get things more up to date and under control can often bring a sense of satisfaction and progress, and reduce triggers for negative thoughts and concerns, such as thinking about unpaid bills, piles of washing or long lists of things to do. Getting more organised will also help free-up more time to spend doing things you enjoy.

5 – Change Your Thinking

It seems almost silly to suggest one of the ways we can be happier is to just ‘try to be happier’, but it’s actually true. Being more aware of our own mental life, and taking more control to discourage negative streams of thought, is considered an important element in reducing depression. Known as mindfulness, it’s no more than attempting to be more consciously aware of our patterns of thought, and seeking to interrupt, and not dwell on negative concerns or outcomes.

6 – Get More Sleep

As I’ve written before, lack of sleep is well known to have a significant negative effect on our mood. Research has shown that when people are limited to less than six hours of sleep per night they become more stressed, more irritable, more angry, more sad and more mentally exhausted. Our busy modern lifestyles and the ubiquitous presence of screens and entertainment mean sleep is one of the things we often sacrifice . . . If we want to be happier, we should get more sleep !

7 – Let Go of the Bad Stuff

It seems obvious to say it, but being constantly reminded about ‘the bad stuff’ tends to make us miserable. Unfortunately most of the news we see tends to be ‘the bad stuff’ and we can easily become unduly influenced by world events, the state of the economy, crime and political developments we’re unhappy about etc. Of course I’m not advocating we disconnect from the world, but it might not be a bad idea to balance these constant sources of negative news with a few more positive ones. There’s plenty of good stuff happening out there as well, and being a bit more aware of it might help us feel more positive about the world.

8 – Have More Fun

When we feel a bit down it’s easy to loose touch with many of the things that give us pleasure or that we enjoy, like hobbies and social events, and taking steps to reconnect with the things we enjoy can help us have more fun. Even making plans and arranging dates in the diary, for a holiday, trip, cinema visit or meal out, or even just a get together with friends, as something to look forward to, can have a positive effect. You might also want to invest a bit of time in watching, listening to, or reading some comedy – smiling and laughing produce a powerful effect on our mood and sense of wellbeing.

9 – Do Something for Someone Else

If we want to be happy, there’s a balance to be struck between doing things for ourselves and doing things for other people. If we feel we are always working for and trying to please others, then perhaps we need to concentrate on ourselves for a while, but for many of us shifting our focus away from ourselves and our own problems, and doing something to help others will probably be beneficial. Thinking about, and more importantly doing things for, other people provides connection, purpose and control, and also creates a sense of gratitude as we put our own problems into perspective.

10 – Spend More Time with Friends

Studies into improving happiness have looked at a large range of factors and methods, including many of those listed above, but consistently one factor is judged to be more important than any of the others. If we want to be happier, it seems, we should spend more time in the company of people we like.

Photo by JustTakenPics, via Flickr

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10 Reasons Minimalism Might Be Right For You

161 - MinimalA guest post by Joshua Becker, author of the Becoming Minimalist blog, and on a journey towards rational minimalism with his family in Arizona. He is also the author of two several books on simple living, including :SimplifySimplicity Inside Out and Living with Less.

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” – Wayne W. Dyer

Minimalism as a lifestyle, is a movement that seeks to pare down possessions to only the essential. Because life can be lived richer and fuller when unnecessary possessions have been removed, it is a growing trend that includes more than just young, single, 20-somethings. Many families are embracing the lifestyle as well.

And more and more are being introduced to the lifestyle every day. Perhaps, even, this is your first introduction.

Some people get nervous when they hear the term “minimalist.” For them, it conjures up images of destitution, barren walls, and empty cupboards. Rightly so, they decide that is no way to enjoy life. Believe me, I agree – that is no way to enjoy life. And since deciding to become minimalist years ago, we have been on a journey to define what it means for us and how it fits into our unique lifestyle.

We live in the suburbs of Arizona. We have two small children. We are active in our community. We love to entertain and show hospitality. While not exceptional, our life is not identical to anybody else. It is our life – nobody else’s. Minimalism, for us, would have to be unique. It would require us to determine the most important pursuits in our life and remove everything that was distracting us from it. And in so doing, we would find a new way to live life that adds richness and fullness around life’s most essential elements.

To determine if minimalism may indeed be the right lifestyle for you consider some of these questions:

1. Do you spend too much time cleaning?

If you enjoy clean, tidy rooms but don’t like to clean, minimalism just may be your answer. After all, the easiest way to reduce your cleaning time is to simply own less things. It works every time.

2. Are you trying to get out of debt?

Debt holds our life in bondage and weighs heavily on our shoulders. Getting a handle on it by buying less things is one of the most life-giving actions you can take.

3. Is there too much stress in your life?

Physical clutter results in extra stress on our lives. Minimalism removes the clutter and limits the distraction that it causes. Minimalism may be just the breath of fresh air that your home needs to help you relax and unwind.

4. Would you like more time in your day?

Consider for just a moment the amount of time that our belongings drain from our life. Whether we are cleaning, organizing, maintaining, repairing, removing, or shopping, our possessions demand a large percentage of our time. Owning fewer of them results in less time spent maintaining them.

5. Are you environmentally conscious?

Minimalism reduces our impact on the environment by requiring less resources on the front end for production and reducing the amount of waste on the back end.

6. Are you frugal?

While becoming minimalist doesn’t mean that you have to spend less money, it certainly provides the opportunity. And because you are buying less things, you also have the option to make higher-quality purchases that last longer.

7. Do you enjoy financially supporting other causes?

Minimalism provides an opportunity to not just save money for the sake of keeping it, but for using it to further causes that we believe in. After all, once you become content with your belongings and have been rescued from the race of accumulating possessions, you have no need to hoard money. You find new freedom to support the causes that you hold most dear. Currently, the Becoming Minimalist community is raising $10,000 for Charity:Water.

8. Are there things you value more than material possessions?

Minimalism seeks to intentionally promote the things in life that we most value and remove anything that distracts us from it. It allows our life to center around our deepest heart desires rather than the items on sale at the department store.

9. Are you not afraid of change?

Minimalism is a counter-cultural lifestyle that will force changes in the way you spend your time, energy, and money. Of course, almost every change is for the better… so it’s definitely worth the effort.

10. Is your life too valuable to live like everyone else?

Our heart, soul, and passions makes us valuable and unique. Don’t sacrifice your important role in this world by settling for the same temporal possessions that everyone else in your neighborhood is chasing. Your life is far too important… and short.

Your particular practice of minimalism is going to look different from anyone else. It must! After all, you live a different life than anyone else. So find a style of minimalism that works for you. One that is not cumbersome, but freeing based on your values, desires, passions, and rational thinking.

Ultimately, you will begin to remove the unneeded things from your life. As a result, you will find space to intentionally promote the things you most value and remove anything that distracts you from it.

Photo by jlz, via Flickr

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Feed the World – Starting Local

160 - TinsThese are undoubtedly hard times for a lot of people.

In austerity Britain, as in most of the developed world, the Government is struggling to balance the books – and, as is usually the case in such circumstances, it is the poor that are facing the most hardship as a result.

Remarkably over twenty percent of the UK’s population is considered to be living in poverty: more than 13 million people, including over 3 million children. Most projections suggest this figure will increase further over the coming years.

Of course how you define poverty matters – discussions of poverty in the UK and other developed countries tend to consider relative poverty, the level of  inequality across society, rather than absolute levels of material deprivation or hardship. The current most widely used UK definition of poverty is a household income below 60% of national median income, ie: below £13,000 a year, or around £250 a week (varied depending on family size). It’s not hard to see how household income levels much below this figure can place the family under continual financial stress and uncertainty and contribute to social exclusion – preventing the family from engaging in things like travelling to see more distant relatives, attending children’s activities like swimming or sports, or taking holidays, trips and occasional meals out.

Inequality and social exclusion are certainly important issues, but focusing  on issues of relative poverty alone can obscure something else even more important – the existence of more extreme levels of poverty and hardship.

Absolute poverty is typically defined as an inability to meet basic human needs such as shelter, warmth, food, health and education, and while precise definitions vary, in the UK the typically used household income figure of £216 a week is used as a threshold for a more absolute level of poverty. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimate around 8.4 million people in the UK are in this position.

This can mean living in unfit housing badly affected by damp and mold, lack of sufficient heating, a shortage of basic clothing, no access to transport, and increasingly severely restricted access to food.

A family living hand to mouth has little ability to plan and save for the future, and when something goes wrong such as the car needed to travel to work needs fixing, or the heating boiler breaks and needs repair, or the main breadwinner is unable to work due to injury or illness, then food is often the thing that suffers.

The growth of foodbanks across the country is a testament to people’s concern, compassion and solidarity for those most in need within their own communities. Last year UK, foodbanks fed over a quarter of a million people.

The basic idea of a foodbank is that it collects and stores tinned and packet food donated by individuals, and then works with the various professional agencies like schools, GPs, social services and Job Centers etc, so that people and families considered to be facing substantial hardship, can be referred to the foodbank to receive a few days worth of food, to help tide them over any period of crisis. The aim is not to provide long term support, but just help take some of the pressure off the family finances to help them get back on their feet. The majority of UK foodbanks are affiliated with the national foodbank charity The Trussell Trust, who assist with organisation and data collection etc.

Over the last year I’ve been part of a small team working to set-up a foodbank in my local area – organising premesis, governance, finances, applying for grants, recruiting volunteers etc, and last Saturday I spent a couple of very enjoyable hours, along with the Youth Forum and many other volunteers, helping collect food donated by generous shoppers outside my local Co-Op supermarket, on behalf of the (soon to be opened), Forest of Dean Foodbank.

If you’re looking for something positive to get involved in within your local community this year why not consider your local foodbank – they’ll be happy to accept food donations or any offers of help, and you can be sure you will help make a tremendous positive difference to people’s lives.

   

Photo by sterlingpr via Flickr

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Putting Things Right

159 - SunsetI hope you all had a good Christmas.

The next and final stop on the festive roller-coaster is the New Year. Amid the traditional parties, celebrations and singing of Auld Land Syne, most of us will also find time to make some plans for the year ahead, perhaps including promises or resolutions to ourselves or others.

In thinking forward to the next year, we of course review the year that has gone – both what went well, and not so well.

Earlier in the year I heard the progressive liberal Rabbi Pete Tobias give a short Yom Kippur talk on the radio. Yom Kippur is typically a time of looking back and also often referred to as The Day of Atonement: atonement meaning righting wrongs, making amends, putting things right, reflection, reconciliation, restitution and reparation.

I thought his words were probably apt for us all.

 

Let us ask ourselves hard questions – for this is the time for truth

How much time did we waste in the year that is now gone ?

Did we fill our days with life, or were they dull and empty ?

Was there love inside our home, or was the affectionate word left unsaid ?

Was there a real companionship with our children, or was there a living together, but growing apart ?

Were we a help to our partner, or did we take them for granted ?

How was it with our friends, were we there when they needed us, or not ?

The kind deed – did we perform it, or postpone it ?

The unnecessary jibe – did we say it or hold it back ?

Did we live by false values – did we deceive others, did we deceive ourselves ?

Were we sensitive to the rights and feelings of those who worked for us ?

Did we acquire only possessions – or did we acquire new insight as well ?

Did we fear what the crowd would say, and keep quiet when we should have spoken out ?

Did we mind only our own business, or did we feel the heartbreak of others ?

Did we live right, and if not have we learned . . . and will we change ?

 

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year.

Photo by Jebulon, via Wikipedia

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