1. Bestow some compliments. In Year 1, our goal was to compliment five people. This year, we declared January to be “compliment month,” each of us taking any and all opportunities to shower others with compliments, from a stranger’s coat that caught my eye to a friend’s jewelry that Ellie admired to a colleague’s work Shawn was grateful for.
2. Leave a friendly message. Every year since we came up with the idea in Year 2, we’ve written a happy message in sidewalk chalk in our neighborhood. At first, I wrote the words and Ellie supplied the pictures. This year she put chalk to asphalt, and while I encouraged her to keep it short and sweet, that girl has a lot of words, which started and ended on multiple lines because she ran out of space. I’ll be honest: it wasn’t the easiest thing to decipher, but as we walked around the pond and eventually saw two teenage girls stop and read the message, the pride and happiness on Ellie’s face reminded me that kindness is as good for the giver as for the receiver.
3. Acknowledge pretty decorations. For those who don’t know me, I hate being cold. But I love Christmas. So it was with mixed feelings that I tasked us with taking a walk some December evening in order to put a note in the mailbox of whichever house we thought had the best lights display. Imagining someone opening our card and picturing the smile on their face made me (almost) forget about the weather.
4. Donate books. The longer we do this, the more we each discover our favorite tasks to repeat. Every year, Shawn chooses to donate books to the library. We’re a family of readers; we love books. So it’s satisfying to take some we have read and enjoyed but are willing to part with and give them a new home for new readers to enjoy.
5. Create a traveling story with friends. When I was a kid, my dad and I would make up stories together. I would say a sentence or two, then he would add a bit before giving me another turn. We invited a few of our friends’ kids to help us create a traveling story by mail. Ellie kicked it off with an opening paragraph, then we sent it to our first coauthor with instructions for whom to pass it onto next. After three rounds, an amusing story rife with owls, trolls, birds, and glow-in-the-dark sheep made its way back to us.