I was on a flight not long ago where a mother was sitting with an infant who was crying. The person sitting next to her asked if she could hold the baby. The mother looked tired and relieved at the chance for a bit of a break. Then something amazing happened. Another passenger asked if he could hold the baby. Before that flight was over, that baby had been passed among almost a dozen smiling passengers. What could have been a stressful experience for the mom, and an annoying experience for the other passengers, was transformed into a particularly joyful flight for just about everyone. And it all started with a small, simple gesture of kindness.
If you are looking for them, they are not hard not to find at all. They are everywhere. Right under your nose and around every corner. I am talking about micro-kindnesses. These are the tiny, thoughtful acts of goodness that people do for one another all the time. They are so common that we can easily overlook them.
The human brain has a bias toward finding what is wrong – this is a very successful survival strategy when you living on the savannah surrounded by carnivores. But it can also lead us to miss out on the wonderful little moments of simple kindness that are happening all around us in modern life.
One of the realities of the human attention system is that what we see is largely a function of what we look for. This is why we notice silver Honda Civics everywhere after we purchase one. If we focus on the ways that people are rude and inconsiderate, we will find them everywhere. And seeing this lack of civility and compassion creates a self-defensive approach to life that can have real negative implications for our well-being and the quality of our relationships.
And modern research supports what sages have been saying for thousands of years – that acts of kindness are good for the person who is doing them, good for the person who is receiving them, and good for the people who are observing them. Even if we assume that acts of kindness are motivated out of a selfish desire to feel better, who loses?
A man recently shared with me that his wife told him sometimes it felt like he ended every sentence with a negative expletive about someone or something. This got him to pay attention, and he realized that he had been practicing looking for the negative in situations, and it was making him miserable. He started looking for the good in people and he couldn’t believe how much there was to see. He told me it was like living in a different world.
I am not suggesting that people are never unkind or oppressive – this is definitely happening in the world. I am suggesting that we have a choice about where we focus our attention. If we look for the ways people are being kind, and the opportunities to do the same, then we experience the world differently – we experience more connection and less isolation. And since kindness is how we counteract cruelty and oppression, we may as well learn from as many examples as we can.
Bringing your attention to all the ways that people are looking out for each other is a powerful a way to boost your daily happiness. And if you want to be really crazy, then you can contribute some of your own small acts of kindness to the cause. The more the merrier – literally.
Would you like a more graceful and powerful relationship to life?
Dave gives individuals and teams the tools they need to live and work peacefully, positively, and purposefully. If you are seeking greater well-being, stronger relationships, more effective communication, or healthier culture, then contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org www.appliedattention.com