Resolve to be kind

If you’re looking to spread more kindness in the coming year, here are some ideas for easy resolutions to incorporate into your everyday life.

1. When you buy something from a vending machine, put in more money than you need.

2. Park further away so someone else can park closer.

3. Use thank-you notes for more than gifts: write a note of appreciation to teachers, coaches, doctors, librarians, etc.

4. Use AmazonSmile to donate to a charity of your choice.

5. Embrace bouquets: give them to the office staff at work or school, send flowers to someone on their birthday, or bring them to the nurses’ station of a hospital for whichever patient they think could use cheering up.

6. Leave copies of your favorite books in public places for other people to take and enjoy.

7. Dedicate a day, week, or month of compliments—see how many you can hand out.

8. When you bake cookies or other treats, double the recipe and take the extras to neighbors, the police or fire station, or your pediatrician’s office.

9. Donate food, toys, or clothing to a food bank, an animal shelter, or a children’s hospital.

10. Treat a friend to dinner.

11. When you take a walk around your neighborhood, take a notepad with you. Write complimentary notes about people’s homes and gardens.

12. Don’t be afraid to have fun while doing something kind: join a wine club or a culinary “of the month” club and share the bounty with friends or colleagues.

No act of kindness is too small. Making kindness a part of your daily routine helps keep it top of mind. Soon you’ll see all kinds of opportunities to do a good deed.

Kindness through the ages

Ellie with our “Angel” gifts in 2017

Having started doing “happy tasks” when Ellie was one year old, we’ve seen her involvement change dramatically over the past six years. It was exciting when she started coming up with ideas of her own. (One of her first was to “leave a penny to help the animals” at the zoo.) And it’s been fun seeing her ideas mature as she has.

Every year at Christmas, we “adopt” a child through the Salvation Army Angels program. (You can learn more about the program here.) We always pick a girl who’s the same age as Ellie, and we encourage Ellie to help us pick out presents she might like. This year, shopping for our girl—Raina—was the most fun it’s ever been. (And yes, after I narrowed down the options by gender and age, I definitely picked this girl because she shares the name of the main character in my next novel.)

We were given a list of things Raina likes and wants, so Ellie and I entered Meijer last Friday with our sights set on doll accessories. Having found multiple possibilities, Ellie spread all the choices out around her on the floor and proceeded to deliberate on which ones Raina would like best.

Watching Ellie give so much thought to gifts for someone else (gifts she would be happy to get herself) filled my heart with joy. I ended up spending more than I normally do, partly because it’s wonderful to imagine a girl who doesn’t have a lot being surprised and delighted on Christmas morning, but also because of how gratifying it was seeing Ellie’s excitement.

I don’t think good deeds need to be selfless; in fact, I think people are more likely to be kind if they get something in return. I love having fun with Ellie as we complete our happy tasks, and I hope the fact that she enjoys it instills in her a desire to continue giving back as she grows up.

Selfless good deeds

As those who know me can attest, Friends is my favorite show of all time. So many life situations harken back to an episode. Recently, I was thinking about “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS.” Joey tries to convince Phoebe there’s no unselfish good deed because doing kind things for others makes you feel good.

Here I turn to Merriam-Webster. Selfless means “having or showing great concern for other people and little or no concern for yourself.” Because I find joy in performing acts of kindness, I have to disagree with selfless good deeds. But M-W defines selfish as “having or showing concern only for yourself and not for the needs or feelings of other people,” so I also disagree with calling them selfish.

Fortunately, because our language has a colorful variety of words with subtle nuances, we have another option. Unselfish means “having or showing more concern for other people than for yourself,” which I think is a fair description of our kind gestures.

But realistically, I believe things fall along a continuum. Some of our acts of kindness sit further from selfless because of how fun they are for us. When we buy a nice bottle of wine to share with friends or family, we’re getting as much out of that experience as they are. But some of our acts require a sacrifice and thus come closer to that elusive selfless good deed.

I am not enjoying growing out my hair in order to donate it. It’s a pain in the ass. When I sit on the couch, I have to move it out of the way. At night when I turn over, I have to flip my head around to get all the hair out from under me. Sometimes I have to use two hands when I comb it, and as winter approaches, I know it will get stuck in my coat.

Plus, beyond the inconveniences of growing it out, I’m not looking forward to getting it cut. I have had short hair twice in my life and hated it both times. So if any of our kind acts approach selflessness, this is it.

But…

I still feel good about choosing to do it. Especially because I work in a cancer-related field, I think often about the people going through such a journey. I can only imagine the challenges—physical, emotional, financial, logistical, spiritual­—these people face. When struggling through hardship, I believe we should find as many small moments of joy as possible. And if I can help someone look in the mirror and feel a little bit better about herself, that makes me feel good.

A kindness mind-set

I was driving to work yesterday and stopped at a red light. In my rearview mirror, I saw a man get out of the car behind me and rush over to the truck to my right. Confused, I tried to figure out what was going on. Then I saw what he saw: a cell phone on the back bumper. The Good Samaritan picked up the phone and waved it in front of the driver’s side window. The driver of the truck rolled down the window and took the phone—grateful, I’m sure—as the man hurried back to his car.

It made me smile.

The kindness crusade my family and I completed last Saturday was a success—we committed 100 acts of kindness in a single day. And we weren’t alone. It was heartwarming to read the stories of others who joined in by performing their own good deeds. But it wasn’t just about that one day.

Watching the cell phone recovery reminded me of something a friend said at dinner the other night—how kindness is a mind-set and how, hopefully, all of my recent postings on the topic have kept kindness top of mind for many. This made me think of my neighbor (whom I know has been following my adventure in kindness). She recently told me a story about getting her nails done while sitting next to a 92-year-old woman doing the same. As this elderly lady shared some of her life story, my neighbor was inspired to pay for the woman’s manicure.

So while I’m proud of our accomplishment and happy we met our challenge on September 21, I think all the talk of kindness leading up to the event may have been the bigger win.

Over the years, when people ask how I get ideas for my writing, I say they often pop into my head spontaneously—but only if I’ve generally been thinking about the story. When we think regularly about kindness, I believe we’re more inclined to notice opportunities to be kind and to act on those impulses. Thank you to everyone who has done and will do something kind.

How much kindness can we spread together?

After spending nearly a decade disconnected from the writing world, I have felt like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon over the past several months. I’ve been continually gratified—by the writing process itself, by the feedback I’ve received, and by the communal spirit of the writing community online.

Two months ago, I never used Twitter. As a writer (of novels, not flash fiction), I feared I was too verbose for a limited number of characters. I struggled with believing that people would be interested in what I have to say, so Twitter seemed fraught with the constant need to answer, “What should I tweet?” But as I dipped my toes in the water, a magical thing happened: I found other writers.

Ready-made hashtags with daily prompts made figuring out what to say easy. And that ready-made community led me to other writers, other hashtags, contests, forums, and critique partners.

As I’ve worked this summer to establish my platform and to decide how I want to brand myself, one topic seems the most natural fit—as a way to stand out and as something my passion makes me want to talk about: kindness.

I’m proud of the happy task project I’ve created with Shawn and Ellie. But I’ve always felt it could be so much more. And now I have an outlet.

The idea started as an experiment to see if I could entice more people to follow me: last week on Twitter, I pledged to commit one kind act on September 21 for every new follower/retweet, up to a max of 100 acts of kindness in a single day. Once I tweeted my offer, I waited to see if anyone would respond. But while I wanted more followers to support my writing, I mostly wanted to accomplish 100 acts of kindness in 24 hours. It sounded fun, and I like a challenge.

Even before I posted my crazy scheme on Twitter, I knew I would perform 100 acts of kindness regardless of how many new followers I got. But I’m encouraged by the enthusiasm so far, and I have yet to start the main campaign.

Beginning this Sunday, September 1, I’ll post 5 kindness ideas each day leading up to the main event on Saturday, September 21. I’m excited to personally accomplish 100 kind things in one day, but I’m even more excited about how far this movement could spread. I’ve talked to multiple Starbucks stores that will let me put up a flyer promoting the Kindness Crusade; the PTO at Ellie’s school is talking about using Facebook to get other families involved; and the advertising agency where I work will run its own kindness initiative in support of my mission. I believe people want to be kind.

If you’d like to join in the crusade, it’s simple: just do something nice on September 21, then leave a comment to share what you did. You can comment here or follow the conversation on Twitter. If every person who reads this commits a single act of kindness, imagine how bright the world will shine.

Acts of kindness: back-to-school edition

Some of our happy tasks are meant to be completed during a specific time of year (I’m not writing a message with sidewalk chalk in January). For one such task this year, the timing of drawing it from our jar was impeccable: days before school started, we pulled out a note reading, “Give a treat to the crossing guard.”

Because we live so close to the school, Ellie doesn’t get bussed. I’m happy about this—I treasure the time we spend walking together (when the weather is nice).

Elise’s birthday is in August, so for her party this year, she had her very first sleepover, with three of her close friends. As part of the evening’s activities, we baked cupcakes, which we then let the girls decorate. Wanting to please all palates, I made a batch of vanilla as well as chocolate, so we had 48 cupcakes for four girls. Even after sending boxes home with each of them, we still had a ton left over.

Giving a box to the crossing guard seemed like a no-brainer. And I’ll admit: I had fun decorating them. So much fun that I snagged another four to give to Ellie’s teacher at the open house the day before school started.

Last year, the same woman met us at the crosswalk every day. This year, we’ve seen two new people this first week. But on the first day, when we took the cupcakes, Ellie went right up to the guard and handed him the box. He was very appreciative, even stopping us the next morning to thank us again. This prompted Ellie to reflect on how nice everyone at her school is, which made my heart swell. I’ve felt nothing but positive things toward her school and its staff, which is extremely gratifying as a parent. Ellie described it as a “sunny” place, and I thought: we should all be lucky enough to feel that way about the places we spend our days.

Cancer (and other) kindnesses

Work, happy tasks, writing, and life converge when it comes to cancer kindness. There are so many great organizations here in central Ohio—below are some of our favorites.

Locks of Love

Back in 2007, I let my hair grow longer than it had ever been in anticipation of my wedding. Because it had gotten so long, I decided to cut it afterwards and donate it to Locks of Love. Now Ellie and I are both letting our hair grow long in order to donate it. (While I love knowing my hair will benefit someone else, aesthetically, I prefer my hair long, so I can’t say I’m looking forward to the short style. Ellie, on the other hand, is sacrificing in letting hers grow long. The girl runs every chance she gets, so her fine hair is always a mess of tangles. She prefers hers short to make it a little more manageable. We’ve been doing a lot of ponytails lately.) If you’d like to learn more: https://locksoflove.org/

Nationwide Children’s Hospital

While Dell may initially feel she’s too old for the “children’s hospital,” I was happy to have her be treated there. Nationwide has appeared on our list of happy tasks multiple times over the years. We’ve made activity bags and bought toys from their wish lists. Typically, Shawn does the deliveries because he works downtown, but the last time, we made it a family affair. It was gratifying for Ellie to go inside and hand over a big bag of toys, seeing kids walking around who just might benefit from something she had donated. For more on Nationwide: https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio

The Ronald McDonald House has a special place in my heart. I was born with a congenital heart defect, which was corrected shortly before I turned three. I had surgery at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and while I was recovering, my parents spent a night at a Ronald McDonald House. I’ve been on a couple of tours of the House here in Columbus, and I’m always left feeling awed, humbled, and moved. This might be my favorite expression of our kindness movement. We’ve supported RMHC seven times, from donating money, cooking dinner, making snack packs, and baking cookies. Ellie and I have a system for the snack packs now—we sit on the floor with our grocery bags, I hand her each item, and she sorts them into piles for me to put into Ziploc bags. And I’ve been waiting several years for her and some of our friends’ kids to be old enough to bake cookies for the families staying at the House. We did that for the first time this summer, and it was a fun and rewarding experience for us all—kids and grownups alike. Please check them out: http://rmhc-centralohio.org/

5 free ways to incite a kindness revolution

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.

Random acts of kindness: how we began

Toward the end of 2013, I was starting to realize that Ellie would have a lot of stuff in her life. Shawn and I were pretty sure we didn’t want more kids, and we’re both only children ourselves, which meant all the love, affection, and buying power from two sets of grandparents plus other family members would be concentrated on her.

This was especially true at Christmas, when each day brought her closer to an influx of toys to add to the pile she already had. Not wanting to deny her the pleasure of presents, I wondered if we could embrace her good fortune while also establishing a family tradition of giving back.

Every year, we hang on our wall the same fabric countdown calendar I used to anticipate my childhood Christmases. What if we borrowed the countdown idea but changed the payoff?

Starting December 1st, in addition to marking time until The Day of Many Gifts, we would think of something to do for someone else—a way to brighten their day or lighten their load. Once the holiday season ended, we would have 24 “happy tasks,” as we’ve come to call them, to complete over the next 12 months.

Now, more than five years later, with nearly 100 unique random (or not so random) acts of kindness under our belts (plus many we repeat from year to year), this tradition is one of my proudest parenting accomplishments. Ellie is an active participant, coming up with her own ideas and helping execute nearly all of them, and the habits this endeavor has instilled in her shine through her actions—from leaving her money for other kids to find to wanting to donate her hair (more on that in a future post).

And because this has become a regular part of our lives, it seems only natural that it should make its way into my writing. With Dell, I proudly set her treatment in Nationwide Children’s Hospital, a recipient of many of our happy tasks. One of my new projects is a story about a 16-year-old girl named Rae, who is struggling to overcome a major loss and needs the healing power of kindness.

As part of this blog, I’ll periodically feature posts about random acts of kindness that Shawn, Ellie, and I commit—the Happy Task Series. Please check back, and feel free to take our ideas and spread some joy yourself. Leave comments too with suggestions—the world can’t have too much kindness.