Your mom probably told you many times during your childhood, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." This is great advice, but I'd like to add another sentence. "If you can say something nice, do!" In this world where countless news sources are vying for our attention, it seems the sensationalized stories get the most traffic, and many of those contain negative, disappointing, or even scary content. It's easy to begin to believe there's very little "nice" stuff to talk about! The more we hear about the negative, the harder it is to even recognize the positive.
I recently had the opportunity to hear happiness researcher, Shawn Achor, speak, and one of the points that stuck out to me the most is that the more negative we feel, the more negative things we look for in our days, but the opposite is also true. Once you begin to recognize and appreciate positive things in your day, you actually become happier and start to notice more and more positives all around you. What if I could recognize more positives while also help others do the same? I think it's very easy to do just that by simply saying out loud the nice things we are already thinking. There are so many times that think, "her hair looks nice today," "he's really good at his job," "that guy is hilarious," "I like that girl's tattoo," "that kid is really well behaved," etc. How many times have I kept those nice thoughts in my head when I could have said them out loud and possibly made someone else's day? I know that when someone says even the smallest kind thing to me, it makes me happy. If it's that easy to spread happiness, I'm going to do it!
During a visit to the store, my kids and I received a comment card that you could complete about a specific employee who had done a good job. From all of the cards submitted, one would be drawn, and that employee would win a prize. My oldest son immediately told me who we should enter - a man who worked there who was always especially helpful and kind. Fast forward a week or so...I saw that man, and I immediately thought about my son's comment and about how neat it was that even as a kid, he recognized and appreciated kindness. I could have just walked by keeping that thought in my head, but instead, I went up to the guy (who didn't know me) and told him the story. Maybe a little weird or uncomfortable for me, but the look on his face and hearing him say, "Thank you. You made my day, and I needed that today!" made ME happy. Wait a second - me saying something nice to someone else actually made me happy - wow, why am I not doing this all the time?
Throughout the day, different people and experiences pop into my head. I usually just let it pass and do nothing about it, but occasionally, I take the time to shoot that person a text or an email letting them know I was thinking of them and why. Most of the time I get a kind response of appreciation, and very often I get the response, "I needed that today." You don't have to be physically with a person to spread some kindness!
One day while I was eating lunch out, I had a young server who had several tattoos. I commented on one that was visible just by saying I liked it and asked what made him choose it. His whole demeanor changed. I think he was surprised to be asked (maybe me being in a business suit on my lunch hour asking about his tattoo caught him off guard) but he opened up and told me why he got the tattoo, what it meant to him, and showed me another one and shared a personal story about it. After this experience I've started asking others who have visible tattoos about them. I don't have tattoos myself, but figure if someone cares enough about something to have it tattooed, it may be something they'd like to share and it may make them happy to do so. Just from saying, "I like your tattoo, what does it mean?" I've heard about the impact of parents who have passed on, faith journeys, and just some funny stories.
"Saying kind things doesn't only improve the mood of those you're complementing, it also helps your own mood."
Saying kind things doesn't only improve the mood of those you're complementing, it also helps your own mood. I remember when my Grandma was alive, sometimes when I had a bad day, I'd call her - not to complain about my day, but rather to cheer her up. In hearing her mood improve, it made me feel better - a win, win! Why does this work - is it because we shift our focus and forget about our problems or is it that by shifting our focus, our attitude about our problems actually changes?
Since hearing Achor speak, I started a new dinnertime routine with my family. Each night we go around the table taking turns saying three specific things we were grateful for that day. They can be as small as, "I'm grateful for these great hamburgers that Dad grilled" or "I'm grateful for going on a walk in the sunshine today." The research shows that after 21 days of recording specific gratitude, our brains actually start perceiving the world differently because we are looking for things to be grateful for, so those things are at the forefront and the negatives - which still exist - are in the background. I'm eager to look back after we've done this for a few weeks at what made us feel gratitude and notice our happiness increasing! Once we become happier, we improve in many ways - health, productivity and our influence on others all benefit. Achor did a popular TED talk you may want to check out called "The Happy Secret to Better Work." I've heard many productivity experts talk about gratitude journals and have had a hard time keeping one for myself, but adding my family in the mix has helped me make this a part of my day that I look forward to!
I encourage you to give some of these ideas a shot and see if they make you happier:
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!