John Cruitt, a 62 year old man, decided after over 50 years to contact his third grade teacher. At the age of 11, John's mother died from the complications of MS. His teacher, Cecile Doyle, went to the wake and after class approached John and told him that she was there if he needed anyone. John felt at the time that she understood what he was going through, and always remembered her reaching out to him. So many years later he sent her a letter expressing his gratitude to her. She was very appreciative of the letter, having received it after her husband of many years had passed away. When they talked in person and John thanked her again, Cecile said, "John, what can I say — I'm just glad that we made a difference in each other's life.”

Kindness is an act of benevolence. It is the caring we show for others. As John's story shows, acts of kindness benefit the giver and receiver. Kindness comes from a place of seeing others as being of equal importance as ourselves, and being in touch with our common humanity. We are uplifted even when we hear about acts of kindness.

Psychologist, Sonja Lyubomirsky has studied kindness and has found that happier people tend to be more kind. She has also found that practicing acts of kindness makes people happier. In her book, The How of Happiness, Sonja talks about how kindness works. She suggests that being kind leads us to perceive others more positively, increases our sense of interdependence and community, relieves our guilt or discomfort over the suffering we see with others, and encourages appreciation of what we have. These points are illustrated in the story that Rabindranath Tagore tells:

I lived on the shady side of the road and watched my neighbors' gardens reveling in sunshine. I felt I was poor, and from door to door went with my hunger. The more they gave me from their careless abundance, the more I became aware of my beggar's bowl. Till one morning I awoke from my sleep at the sudden opening of my door, and you came and asked for alms. In despair I broke the lid of my chest open and was startled into finding my own wealth.

Sonja Lyubomirsky has done research showing that practicing acts of kindness can improve our happiness and well being. To have this effect, she found that it is beneficial to set aside a specific day and try to do more kind acts then typical on that day. She states that it is important that the kind acts be chosen freely, not imposed by others. She also observes that  chronically caring for others can at times be a detriment to a person's happiness. This does not mean people shouldn't do this, but that too much caring for others at the sacrifice of one's own needs can be difficult and people in these positions can benefit from additional support. Acts of kindness are more likely to increase well-being when they are done without expectation of return, and when they are done from the perspective that it is better to give then to receive.

So try it! Pick a few things to do for others, large or small. For example: do a chore for someone in your household, pick up litter in your community, spend time with someone who cannot get out on their own, donate money to a good cause, give blood, volunteer your time at a school, hospital, nursing home, charitable organization, give up your seat on the train or bus to someone else, or anything else you can think of. It may improve you life, and if nothing else, the world always needs more kindness.

Hear  John and Cecila tell their story on StoryCorps

New Year's Resolutions: Keys to Being Above Average

Many of us make New Year's resolutions but few of us keep them. In their article "If at First Your Don't Succeed", in the 2002 American Psychologist, Polivy and Herman cite statistics saying:
  • 25% of New Year's resolutions will be abandoned in the first 15 weeks
  • The average number of times a New Years resolution is made is 10
  • Those who manage to make a resolution that lasts for 6 months or more have often tried 5 or 6 times before finally succeeding
  • Many New Year's resolutions are for health related goals
Though the odds may be stacked against us of attaining our New Year's goals, there are some things we can do that will improve our chances of success.

Break down your goals

Once you have selected a goal think of the tasks that you need to do to achieve that goal. For example, to lose weight and be healthier: you can read articles about healthy eating, develop a diet plan, plan menus, track your eating, get a consult from a medical professional, take an exercise class, walk 5000 steps four days a week, bike to work, stand up every hour for a minute, etc. These are just a few of the many small activities that will start you down the path of healthier living.

Track what you are doing

Tracking the tasks you plan to do can improve your motivation. Tracking can be as simple as checking off on the calendar each day you do one of your planned activities. You can also invest in getting a pedometer to measure steps, or use a pedometer or fitness app on your smart phone. You can keep a scrap book of healthy menus that you can add to as you find them, or journal your food intake daily. Anything you can do to keep track of your efforts will help you see your progress, and encourage you to keep going.

Do activities together

You are more likely to stay with activities if other people doing them with you. There are many ways to do this, for example you can do activities with a friend, join a class or group, sign-up for an online community of people wanting to eat better or exercise more, or just go to places where there are other people also doing things to improve their health, like the gym or a public park. By doing things with others you can be inspired, learn, and be supported.

Keep going

M.H. Alderson said, “If at first you don't succeed, you are doing about average.”As the research I presented earlier suggests, many of us will abandon our resolutions. Prepare for the fact that sooner or later you will hit obstacles and stop following through on your efforts. This does not mean you can never achieve your goals, it just means you need to start again. So, if you want to be above average with your New Year's resolution, follow the old Japanese proverb, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”