The Season of Doing Good

image: iStock photo

This time of year is when we tend to hear the most messages of kindness. It’s traditionally a season of goodwill and I think we should use this tradition to be kind to each other.

There are many ways that we can be kind. It could be a simple gesture of breakfast in bed, especially if it’s a surprise. It could even be in saying, “You know, I never did properly say thanks for that thing you did for me. It really helped a lot.

You could help strangers on the street. You could volunteer some of your time. You could even make a monetary donation.

And how about smiling at people? My dear friend Margaret McCathie smiles at people on purpose, and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. She waits for a return smile. As I write this I recall a time a couple of years ago when Margaret and I were giving a joint workshop (she’s a laughter therapist) at a large insurance company. When we boarded the elevator up to the floor where we would be presenting we found two men in grey suits standing in silence staring at the wall. You may have come across a similar picture in an elevator. 🙂

Margaret burst out laughing, as she has a tendency to do, and proceeded to try to make the men laugh. At this point I should also mention that she was dressed as a clown! But the men didn’t budge an inch. I think it might have been quite a shock to them.

But she worked on them for the next 20 floors until they were now quite different. Both were smiling and looking fairly relaxed. One of them even undid his tie a little.

I was quite impressed and Margaret explained to me the importance of making an attempt to interact with people.

Sometimes, being kind or positively interacting with people can push us out of our comfort zones. It can take courage. Would I have interacted with those two men had Margaret not been there? Probably not! I might have smiled.

But what would have been wrong with striking up a conversation? I think we need to make more of an effort to connect with each other, especially in this season of goodwill. It’s healthy for us. And you never know the connections you might make.

Also, over this next month until the end of 2012, try to make an effort to help those in need. We don’t all need to try to change the world. Many of the people in need in our lives are friends, family members, and work colleagues who are experiencing a difficult time for one reason or another. Sometimes we just need to be the person they can talk to.

I was in a taxi 2 nights ago, from the airport to my house, and the driver struck up a conversation with me. At the time, having just accessed my e-mails I wanted to work through some of them during the 20-minute ride. I often ride in the front in taxis but this time I sat in the back so that I could work.

I quickly realised that the driver needed to talk. After he learned what I did for a living he opened up and shared that he was depressed and had been for a while now. I put my phone away and just listened as he talked. I was also able to offer a few little suggestions on strategies for building happiness. One was gratitude.

I suggested that he spend 5-10 minutes a day thinking of the special moments he has had with this loved ones and considering things that he is grateful for. I injected hope into this by explaining that it should only take around 21 days of doing this every day to create habit and it will make him happier. I also quoted some scientific research on this.

We chatted on and by the time we reached my house he was talking about setting up his own business selling bed linen. He seemed more animated when he spoke of it and told me that his intention is to set it up within a year. I wished him good luck and said I believed he could do anything he put his mind to, especially if it was something that excited him.

When I got out the car and moved toward my house, he rolled the window down. He looked at me and smiled a smile of real sincerity and said, “Thank you. You said some really important things to me tonight.” You know, I had been teaching all weekend but that moment was one of the most significant, and definitely the most unexpected. It was a connection forged through a simple gesture of listening. It reminded me how important it can be just to listen to someone who needs to talk.

I would like to finish this blog post by sharing a true story that a friend of mine, Jo, shared with me a couple of years ago.

Back in 1981 her sister was very ill and was dying. She was living in Canada with her husband and young children. Jo and their elderly parents were living in Scotland.

It was a terribly upsetting time for all the family. Flights weren’t quite as cheap in 1981 as they can be now and Jo’s parents weren’t so well off so they rarely saw their daughter. They kept in touch mostly through letters and phone calls, which were becoming increasingly frequent as she was nearing the end of her life.

One day, there was a knock on the door. It was a complete stranger who then thrust an envelope into their hands. It contained £200.

The only message was, “I expect your phone bills are high at the moment.”

Jo told me that her father was moved to tears.

There are many, many ways that we can help others. Sometimes kindness takes courage, but I would say that these can also bring the greatest rewards.

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  1. teresa maita green on December 4, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    I am that person that is childlike and smiles and chats all….
    if you can think of a way to skype your course on seld love next year ,,, i live in austin tx … London would be great .. !!! just a thought..

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on December 21, 2012 at 12:55 pm

      Hi Teresa. I’ll bet your great to be around. Emotions and behaviours are very contagious so you probably make people feel good just by being around them. I may run the course later in the year as an online event, which will probably be video. You can keep up to date with my events on my website or by signing onto my newsletter list as I send out monthly event updates. 🙂

  2. Georgie Oldfield on December 5, 2012 at 10:06 am

    Great blog as usual David, thanks. I often send them on to my own contacts because it is so in-line with what I do, which is to help people recover from stress-induced symptoms, such as chronic pain. One of the suggestions I make is for my patients to spend time each day considering things they feel grateful for and I appreciate the studies you publish supporting why things like this can help.
    Warm wishes, Georgie

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on December 21, 2012 at 12:52 pm

      Thanks for your comment Georgie. I can imagine that your patients benefit greatly from the gratitude exercises you encourage them to do. I’m glad my articles have been useful to you. 🙂

  3. Angela Ressa on December 5, 2012 at 11:45 am

    I had just gotten off the phone from a friend who was extremely frustrated and exasperated when I read your e-mail. She has been helping me through some marital problems and during this call she was extremely rude and uncaring with her comments and it shocked me. I managed to respond to her behaviour calmly and I think by not reacting negatively to her hurtful words she calmed down somewhat. Reading your post brought tears to my eyes as not only kindness comes from giving but also by being patient when others lash out at you, not because they don’t care, but simply because they are overwhelmed themselves. SOOOO many ways to help people!

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on December 21, 2012 at 12:51 pm

      Amen to that Angela!! Well done for being so patient with your friend. And thanks for pointing this out. I’m sure it will be meaningful for many people, especially over the holiday period. 🙂

  4. Katy on December 5, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    I have been receiving your Blogs since September and have loved everyone of them, they do inspire me. So thank you.

    Since discovering the benefits of acts of kindness, I have increased my smiling (always was a smiley person) but now when out and about I play a game of how many smiles can I catch back. Knowing a simple smile can lift someones spirits, such an easy gift to give.

    I now always look out for something unusual about a person and comment on that, the latest was a bag with a Lowry picture on it, and ended up have a discussion all about Lowry. Such a simple thing to do and it can be so rewarding (for both people).

    Thanks again for all your inspiration.


    • David R. Hamilton PhD on December 21, 2012 at 12:50 pm

      Hi Katy, I love that game!!! What a great way to focus on smiling!! Brilliant. I think I’ll count some smiles today.

  5. Lyndsey Craig on December 5, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment in your newsletter. I was recently purchasing 9 roles of wallpaper from a large Home Improvement store. At the checkout the woman told me I had selected all different batch no’s and that I showed me which code to look for. After changing all the roles to the same code I thanked her at the time for pointing this out to me, however, I decided to email the head office and let them know how pleased I was with the customer service provided by this member of staff. I recently received n email back saying how delighted they were to receive my original email and that so few people take the time to comment on good service. They also said they would pass the information onto the manager of the store I was in. This left me really happy knowing that the woman would hopefully receive recognition of her lovely manner and good service she provides.

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on December 21, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      Hi Lyndsey, It was so nice of you to e-mail customer service to point out your good experience. It’s mostly complaints they get so it must have really brightened their day to receive positive words from you! Well done!!….and keep up the good vibes. 🙂

  6. Margaret McCathie on December 5, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    David,, thankyou so much for your remarkable memory of the day we were working in East Kibride I remember it very well. I do believe that people are genuinely good and happy it is just sometimes clouded over by the trials and difficulties that life sometimes brings.I am passionate about kindness it takes nothing to be kind holding a hand of a sick person giving a hug and a smile. Today there was workmen salting the street I whistled to them would you like a hot drink they were delighted I had made scones as well so I shared them with them. They thought I was a man with a whistle like that.I invited them into the warm but they just wanted to be outside in heir van.they thanked me and had a wee chat at the window I smiled and waved goodbye.To me it is easier to be kind than to be cruel or unkind.
    Love Margaret.

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on December 21, 2012 at 12:47 pm

      Yes, it brings back such fond memories Margaret. I have learned so much from you, my friend. Far more than you can imagine!! 🙂

  7. Carolyn Lyons on December 7, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Hi David
    This made me smile as I remember doing a smiling experiment a couple of years ago when I looked after a friend’s dog! I have never been a dog owner (although I love them) and was pleasantly surprised to find how friendly other dog owners were when I took her to the park but non-doggy people just walked straight past, avoiding all eye contact, so one day I decided to smile at everyone I passed – a couple smiled back, although looked surprised but mostly I was met with looks of suspicion and hostility as if I was a bit simple 🙂 and others just looked away. It made me feel good to smile and I am sure they would have felt better to smile back, what are people so afraid if I wonder? Is it that dog owners are a happier bunch? I have a cat and know how much pleasure he gives me, so perhaps we are more relaxed. Now when I go for walks I still smile at everyone regardless of the result and love to talk to the dogs and their owners, it is so nice to connect.
    I expect you are having lots of fun with your dear little puppy – have you read Pea Horsley’s book Heart to Heart about animal communication? I highly recommend it as it illustrates what evolved and wise souls animals are and how much they can teach us if we take the time to connect with them and how we can make them happier. It will make you laugh and cry and very much opens your heart.
    I thank you from my heart for all your inspiration David and for how much you have brightened my life this year, which has been a very sad one for me; never underestimate the good you are doing – and I wish you and your family a peaceful and joyous Christmas and many blessings for the New Year.
    Carolyn x x

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on December 21, 2012 at 12:46 pm

      Your comment made me smile Carolyn. 🙂 I haven’t read that book yet, but I am intrigued. Thanks for the recommendation, and thank you so much for your kind words. 🙂