How Kindness Makes you Happier

I want to be kind, I really do. Kindness matters, I know this, I coach this, I speak about the power of kindness, and yet – yes there is a yet. In my primary relationship with my husband, being kind seems to be in a wrestling match with being right. Being right just feels so good. It is a lustful emotion, an instinctual one, a need that can be an addictive one. It goes a little bit like this. My husband is opening every kitchen drawer in search of the cheese slicer and as he opens the bottom drawer and finds the slicer, he jumps up and bangs his head on the top drawer. My first instinct is to laugh, but I wisely stifle that one and instead say, “sweetheart, I told you not to leave the drawers open.” It is not kind to point out the obvious, especially as he is nursing his goose-egged head, but out it comes. My instinct to be right, to say “I told you so” is greater than my instinct to be kind and offer sympathy for his injury.

I catch myself multiple times a day torn between these two desires. Too often, being kind loses out to being right. I see it in my kids. Their fiercely competitive nature turns into an endless sparring match of arguments and facts, they are talking over each other in order to each make their argument and win their point. It’s obnoxious, and yet I hear myself talking at my daughter as she is talking at me, both of us wanting to be right about our perspective. Until I remember. Until I remember that kindness matters.

That, although it takes more discipline to pull back and listen or not comment on someone’s mistake, especially if you are a naturally competitive person, it is far more powerful and well, kind to hold back. I see how much more open my daughter becomes when I acknowledge her point and hold back my further point. I observe how much my husband appreciates it when I ask him if he is okay, rather than tell him he is an idiot for leaving every drawer open in the kitchen.

I have a theory. I think that the people who are most critical of others, are often the same people that are most critical of themselves. I go through periods where my inner voice is constantly yammering about what I should be doing, how I could do better, how I am such an idiot for burning the granola and dropping the spare ribs, (the granola was fine, but the dog lunged in and ate half the ribs.) This inner voice is pretty darn mean and it’s not somebody I want hanging around in my kitchen for more than a few minutes. When this voice is dominating my head, it has a tendency to become my outside voice as well. So, as I am battling the voice of damnation in my head, I am letting it leak out to the people I love the most. That is not kind.

Maybe kindness starts with ourselves. When we practice being kind and generous to ourselves, it takes the edge off of that constant negative yammering inside our heads. When we remind ourselves to be kind to ourselves, it is far easier to be kind to others. We can be kind and generous to ourselves, not because we are perfect, but because we are not. We can be kind because we are working with our imperfection – we are choosing to be kind while knowing how many times we have let ourselves down. That is kindness. Knowing someone isn’t perfect, and still choosing to be kind and generous. It’s easy to be kind to Mother Teresa, far more difficult to be kind the annoying waiter who seems far more interested in the end of his shift, than the table he is serving.

I am working on drowning out the drone of negativity inside my own head. Many days I can barely hear its insidious vocalization, other days they are like a bad high school band pounding away inside my head. So, I work every day on growing in ways that make self-criticism and perfectionism lesser aspects of my personality. This is not going to change in a day, so here are some strategies I use to choose kindness over the need to be right.

Be Grateful. Before you even get out of bed in the morning, reflect on what you are grateful for in your life. When we do this, we turn our attention on what is right in our life. Turning into what is right, allows us to loosen our grip of “being right”.

Decide What’s Important. When you are in a situation where you can make a statement, and be right ask yourself “is it more important to be loving in this situation or is it more important to be right.” Mental note: this is most challenging
with our partners.

Let Go of Control. Being right has a lot to do with control. We might want to ask ourselves that bigger question, what in our life is making us feel out of control?

Take Note. Are you tired? Are you hungry? Has something just stressed you out? It is at these times that we are most vulnerable to being hurtful to others; we are vulnerable to being right at all costs.

Have Empathy. Remember that people in our lives are doing their best. I find thinking about this really connects me to empathy which makes it easier to be kind.

Can you share where you had the opportunity to be right but chose to be kind instead? What was the outcome of that choice? The more we start being mindful of these experiences, the more we see that a kinder approach results in lighter, more positive outcomes.