Earlier this week, I spent the two-hour drive back home from Norman to Tulsa thinking about the upcoming year and how I could do more. Particularly, with simple acts of kindness and helping others.
You see, this past Christmas, I felt particularly grateful.
Grateful for my family. For our health. For all of the good things in our life. And I started thinking about my life in general, and the kindness others have shown me along with way.
I found myself asking if I had given as much as I have received. And honestly, I’m not sure that I can say yes.
Do I help others? I try to when I can.
Am I kind? I try to be.
But am I as kind and helpful as I can be? Maybe not.
Am I intentional about a helpful heart and looking for ways to do good?
I should be doing more.
It’s a humbling moment when you realize that just maybe, you haven’t been giving as much as you could or should.
Some People Are Natural Helpers
Helping others: for some, it’s a practice that comes quite naturally. They just seem to have a heart for making an above-average effort to help people with kind words and intentional action.
They operate from a level of thoughtfulness that I am still working towards.
For instance, I have a friend who has the kindest heart. She is always the first one to text and asks me about a particular situation in my life. Or she remembers my anniversary or birthday and not only sends a text but a card. (Like, in the mail.) Which I love. She is always reaching out.
Right after my breast cancer diagnosis in 2014, a group of women from the neighborhood brought over a beautiful gift basket brimming with thoughtful goodies: A cute robe. Indulgent body lotion. Sweet treats. A wonderful smelling candle.
Learning to Be More Helpful
I’m going to be honest: I’m haven’t always been naturally inclined to do these things. I am a nice person. And I am generally a kind-hearted person.
But I’m just not a person that proactively reaches out a lot. I don’t often think about ways I can go out of my way to help someone in a thoughtful, positive way, “just because.”
That is cringe-worthy. I know.
It’s not that I don’t have feelings or that I don’t have love and kindness in my heart. I do.
I’m just scattered and busy. Also, I forget how much small acts of kindness can help others in a big way.
But I’m Working to Change That
I’ve been working on my personal growth and self-awareness over the years. (It’s been a long, slow, twisty road.) Through the process, I’ve learned (and am still learning) the value of helping others with acts of kindness.
For some, like me, it’s an intentional practice.
This year, I’m making it one of my priorities to do a better job of helping others with simple acts of kindness.
Want to join me?
Simple Acts of Kindness – A Powerful Way to Help Others
Acts of kindness don’t have to be elaborate. They can be simple. And free. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Just smile. You know what they say: It takes more facial muscles to frown than to smile. So smile. Just that simple act will lift your mood and it will certainly be a kind gesture to whomever you’re directing it towards.
- Hold a door open for someone. Or hold the elevator. Full disclosure: I’m the worst about jabbing the close button as soon as I get in an elevator. Why? Introversion. (You won’t get it unless you are one.) Fight the urge to shut out the person coming down the hall and hold the damn door.
- Deliver a good meal or a healthy treat to someone who is down and out. No one wants to think about meal planning when ill, after surgery, or when they’re trying to adjust to a new baby. Trust me on that one.
- Mow someone’s yard and clean their flower beds. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen complaints on a Facebook HOA page about someone three streets over having high grass. Instead of publicly calling them out, go help them. Maybe they’re sick. Maybe they’re depressed. Maybe they are deployed. There could be a hundred reasons why they can’t mow the lawn. You don’t know their story. But you can mow their lawn.
- Volunteer at a nursing home. My grandmother spent several months in a nursing home last year, and it was eye-opening to see how many lonely people sit there, day in and day out without visitors. Interacting with residents, reading, and helping with games and activities are ways to help.
- Give a few dollar bills to the person on the street holding a cardboard sign asking for help. Yes, I’m serious. If you can get past the “what if they are scamming people/what if they use it to buy booze” thinking, then do it. I think of it like this: I don’t know their story or their struggles and I choose to believe they need it. If you don’t want to give a dollar or two, buy them some food. Offer them work. Ask them how you can help. Say a prayer for them. Remember they are human, too.
- Make a donation to a charitable organization. If you can’t give money, give time.
- Send a letter to someone who has made a difference in your life. Think of teachers, babysitters, coaches, employers. I wrote a letter to the toughest and gruffest coach I ever played for. He terrified me when I was 17. It wasn’t until I was 41 that I appreciated the lessons I learned. (thank you and I’m sorry)
- Send a card or letter to someone apologizing for something you might have done that caused them pain or trouble. Look, we’ve all made mistakes and have done things that have hurt people’s feelings. Think of a time that you could have done better with someone. Send them a note and tell them you are sorry.
- Pay for someone’s coffee or lunch.
- Listen to someone who needs to talk. Really listen.
- Sent a thoughtful text to someone the next time you think of them. Even if it’s just a “Hey, thinking about you!”
- Pay gifts forward. For your birthday, Christmas, or occasions when you typically receive gifts, ask family and friends to instead make a donation to an organization or to someone in need.
- Say a heartfelt and sincere thank you to everyone who serves you, waits on you or helps you. Cashiers, service attendants, and servers are often hard and thankless jobs. Tell someone “thank you” as much as possible.
- Invite someone to do something fun. Get coffee. Go window shopping. See a movie. I’m the worst at this. I simply don’t extend a lot of invitations. (Again, introversion.) But you never know who might really need the company and companionship for a few hours.
- See people. I mean really see them. Stop going through the motions. Get off your phone and when you ask someone how their day is going, listen to the answer. Engage with people authentically. Take a sincere interest in the person standing in front of you.
- If someone is stretching for an item on the top shelf of a store, get it down for them. (I’m six-feet-tall and this used to be a pet peeve of mine – but I’m getting over it.) If someone drops something, pick it up for them.
- Send a gift card to someone anonymously. Even better, send it to someone who doesn’t ever indulge or spend money on themselves.
- Keep track of anniversaries and birthdays and acknowledge them when they roll around. Send a card a text.
- If someone has suffered a loss, send them a note or a card on the anniversary of the loss. Or anytime, really. Sometimes, people who have suffered the loss of a loved one say that the hardest part is months after the loss when all of the condolences have dwindled and other people have moved on. Reaching out during this time can sometimes be the most impactful and mean the most.
- Show patience for people. Everyone is going through something and no one is perfect. When someone lets you down, is short, inconsiderate or even rude, take a moment (or a breath) and give them some grace. Chances are, they’re having a bad moment or even a bad day. We’ve all been there, right?
What Holds Us Back From Helping Others
We have the best intentions, but still, making time and effort to help others end up on the backburner. Here are some common setbacks we face:
Going out of our way for others just adds to our already overrun schedule and to-do list? Do we have enough left after giving to everyone and everything else to think about serving and helping?
Sometimes, no. Sometimes, we’re too spent or drained from daily life to think about adding more to our plate.
That’s why this list includes the simplest acts of kindness. A gesture. A word. A text. These are time-consuming things. Minimal effort. Big impact.
Thinking You Can’t Do Enough to Make a Difference
The thought of “helping others” may sound great, but you feel that what you can offer isn’t enough to make a difference.
Again, just start with simple.
If you want to help others, you don’t have to go dedicate several hours each week to a cause. Nor do you have to spend hundreds of dollars. That’s incredibly awesome if that’s what you feel compelled to do so.
But again, you can help someone have a better day by simply showing kindness. Being thoughtful. Doing small things.
My husband shows kindness with the simple act of taking the neighbor’s trash bin from the curb back up to their house after the trash truck has been by.
My former boss used to text me as she was pulling into Starbucks to ask me if she could get me anything.
When I was recovering from surgery, one of my friends left three brand new issues of People, US Weekly and In Touch on my doorstep. (Catching up on Celebrity News in the mags is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Sorry not sorry.
Being Out of Your Comfort Zone
Reaching out can feel uncomfortable. Especially if you’re an introvert. Believe me, I get it.
Even making eye contact and talking to strangers can be hard. Getting out and volunteering may not be your thing.
You can find things that do work for you.
A text. A smile. A “thank you.”
Or then, you can push yourself out of your comfort zone and see what happens.
A Final Thought
This is not a “you should be doing more” guilt trip. If you feel you are doing what you can, then consider that a win and move on.
But if you feel like you could do more, maybe you just need to start small. Maybe this post will spark something in you that will lead you to your path of how you want to serve others. That’s all up to you.
Find your balance with giving and serving: it should feel authentic. And at times, it may push you out of our comfort zone. And that’s okay, too. The times that we push ourselves out of our comfort zones are the times that we grow.
Just make sure then when you serve others, it comes from the heart. You shouldn’t overwhelm yourself trying to do things you don’t feel good about doing. I’ve done that and ended up feeling stressed and resentful. That doesn’t do anyone any good.
Start with simple acts of kindness. They are easy. They are doable. They are also often free.