It was the worst of times, it was the best of times

Please forgive me. I’ve taken a little literary licence with this blog title; a play on the opening line to Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

For those who haven’t read it, it’s a novel about Dickens’ belief in the possibility of resurrection and transformation, both on a personal and on a societal level.  Timely, as Easter is known as a time of resurrection and renewal in the Christian church.

And that’s where my thoughts are right now. Easter weekend 2020. Everyone’s lives turned upside down by COVID-19.

No travel, no socialising, no camping, no family get-togethers. None of us could have imagined at Christmas this situation we now find ourselves in. Lives, jobs, businesses, families, dreams … all changed. And neither the virus nor the imposed restrictions discriminate. We are all in the same boat.

So how do we find the positives in our everyday lives? What good is going to come out of this? We are all going to be changed – forever. The world cannot go back to its former ‘normal’.

I can obviously only speak for me, and what I see in my life. What I’m noticing though is that the electronic devices and social media platforms, that for so long now have been a barrier to old-fashioned social interaction, are being used to bring people together once more.

My workplace has the majority of staff working from home. Productivity has improved and people are having to communicate better. We use Zoom to get together for Friday drinks which lowers the feeling of isolation for those who live alone.

I haven’t been able to see my 86 year-old mother in over a month. However, we talk every day, and on the weekends we FaceTime. The ability to see each other as we talk means that we really feel as if we’ve spent quality time together, and we can read the body language to pick up on how we’re both doing emotionally.

My girlfriends and I have 4 o’clock Happy Hour on a Saturday using Zoom. We take the time to put on makeup, earrings and a nice top, and have a great laugh over a couple of glasses of wine.

There are a number of us who went to school together following a friend’s virtual trip of the UK. As they couldn’t actually travel she is posting daily on Facebook where they would have been and what they would have done, complete with photos of the location. It’s a fun journey, especially as I know some of the locations so well.

I’d really love to hug my daughters right now and tell them that my generation will leave the world a better place for them. They are both productively working from home and we communicate regularly.

It does seem like the worst of times.

My heart goes out to so many right now. Those who have lost loved ones. Those who are restricted to home, when home is not a safe place for them. Politicians worldwide who look tired and drawn. Those whose businesses will never bounce back. Bushfire victims who lost everything just 3 short months ago. They all need our support and love now more than ever.

I give gratitude for our amazing medical staff, and their support services, who are treating the sick and putting their own lives on the line every day. We don’t know when we are going to come out of this, we’re all unsure, and we will be paying for the economic stimulus for many years to come.

But it could also be the best of times.

Really tuning in to what others need. Neighbours supporting each other. True connection between people. The incredible, and very rapid, improvement to worldwide air quality due to a reduction in cars on the road and planes in the air.

The crystal clear canals in Venice after only one week of shut-down. Rapidly pivoting business models. Science moving quickly to find a vaccine. Time to read a book when ‘being busy’ used to be worn like a badge of honour. Societal, economic and mathematical modelling on which to predict, plan for and eliminate another threat like this, or worse, in the future.

Let’s work together to turn this into the best of times for the future. We can do it. This is our world, we are intelligent thinking and feeling beings. We can choose to be positive, optimistic and yes, even happy, and spread that energy outwards to those who need us to uplift them.

As the Buddha said, ‘Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.’

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash 

How much time have I got?

Time.  It’s one of the greatest equalisers.  We all get the same 24 hours per day, and what we choose to do with it is largely up to us.  It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, how rich or poor you are, an hour is 60 minutes and it never changes.

There has been a shift over the last few years in how people relate to their use of time and how they communicate about it. 

For instance, there was a time when people wore their busy-ness like a badge of honour.  Too busy to socialise or get home to spend time with the family.  Too busy to take a holiday.  Too important to not be checking emails and taking phone calls when sitting in a café.  Checking the phone last thing at night, and first thing in the morning.

But the mindfulness, health and wellness movement has made us start to rethink this attitude.  And it is just that – an attitude. 

Most communications will wait.  If someone needs you urgently, they will find a way to get your attention. 

Arianna Huffington has made it her mission to get people to stop sleeping with electronic devices in the bedroom.  And she knows first-hand the consequences of trying to beat time.  Working 18 hour days to start the Huffington Post website, she passed out from exhaustion, breaking her cheekbone and cutting above her eye on her desk on the way to the floor, waking up alone in a pool of blood.

This was a wake-up call for Arianna, and she has used her influence and experience to share with the world the importance of balance, wellness and taking time for yourself.

In December Kirk Douglas (of ‘I am Sparticus!’ fame) turned 103 years old.  This is a remarkable life-span, and it got me thinking over my Christmas break.  If I live to be his age (and why shouldn’t I?) then I still have 41 years left.  That’s the same length of time since my 21st birthday, and I was really only growing up and coming of age until that time.  It seems like so long ago.

So I began to reflect on some of the things I have achieved and learned in the past 41 years.  Some stand-outs to date:

  • Traveling half way around the world to begin life in another country
  • Meeting the man I have spent the last 40 years with
  • Saving enough money to buy our first house
  • Returning to Australia with a very English husband and two babies
  • Bringing up our two girls to be strong and successful women
  • Having a number of different and interesting jobs
  • Learning to use computers, the internet, social media
  • Studying for a degree for 6 years while working full-time and bringing up children
  • Being there for my mum since my father died
  • Making and losing friends and still knowing people that I met when I was five
  • Buying and selling properties, moving many times, upsizing and now downsizing
  • Traveling to and holidaying in many interesting locations (but I’m nowhere near done yet).

So whilst I know that many people my age think that they are in their twilight years, the reflection process above has me knowing that I potentially have so much time still stretching ahead of me.  I want to use this time to continue to learn, make friends, have fun, travel, work, contribute and share my happiness.

And if I don’t have that much time, and none of us know how much we have, then I will already be living each day to the fullest.  No complaints about being too busy.  No neglecting happiness to focus on achieving.  No ignoring quiet time or important interactions to check emails.  No putting rest or relaxation on hold to do what seems urgent but not important.

I urge you to do a stocktake of some of your great achievements to date and things you still want to achieve.  Make the most of every day.  Find happiness in the little things.  Relish the time stretching ahead, but never take it for granted. 

And remember, no one ever said on their death-bed ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office’.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Goodbye 2019

It’s 31 December 2019. Last day of the year. Some are saying (most actually) that it’s the last day of the decade.

Tomorrow, 2020 rolls in. So many strategic plans are based on this milestone year that’s coming.

Often the analogy of 20/20 vision is played up. I’m going with the crowd, railing against my sensibilities, and looking at tomorrow as being the beginning of a new decade. I imagine that we’ll call it “the 20’s”.

I was working in the government technology space when we all held our breath and welcomed in the year 2000. So much money was spent expecting the worst. Nothing happened. No planes dropped out of the sky. Computers still booted up at 12.01am on 1 January 2000. The electronic world kept turning.

2010 was ushered in without any panic or fanfare. New decade? So what. It’s been an interesting 10 years and we all now have access to so much information; more social media, a variety of communication channels, immediate access to entertainment, vicariously living through other people’s insta stories.

But 2020 seems to hold so much more promise. There is a growing movement of people who are, I believe, more socially aware. There may be more media at our fingertips and the anonymity of the internet. Many of us are becoming more cognisant of the need to limit our time on it, and to hold back on the nastiness, remembering that we need to walk in another’s shoes before criticising them.

In the media there is more awareness of diversity and difference and the need to hold to strong values human decency.

We can buy more stuff, more easily. We don’t even need to leave the safety of our own home to purchase. But there is a growing movement of minimalists that are influencing many of us to think twice before buying more things. And to sort through what we already have, dividing it into what we need, what brings us joy, and what we can discard. Recycle. Upcycle. Donate. Opshop.

Houses are growing larger and many first time buyers are critiscised for wanting bigger and better. But at the same time this is balanced out by the tiny house movement. Those who have chosen to down-size their lives and their environmental footprint, and loving the freedom that it brings.

And me? I’m going into 2020 with a huge sense of gratitude for the life that I have been blessed with. The past decade has brought many ups and downs for me and my family, as it will have done for everyone.

I lost a job that I loved and thought I would have until retirement. I’ve moved house (and subsequently downsized) 3 times. I lost my dad and had to help my mum move and get used to life on her own, finding her own unique form of independence. I’ve lost friends and supported people through their own heartaches.

But on the upside, I’ve some great people in my life. I’ve had amazing trips both overseas and within Australia, and the life-changing experiences that travel brings.

I’ve watched my daughters blossom into strong, independent and talented women.

I’ve forged a new career in the private sector and had some big wins.

I’ve met new and interesting people who have taught me great lessons.

I started this blog and my website Achieving Happiness last year because I realised that we try to teach life lessons like leadership and mindfulness, but sometimes people just want some pointers on how to be happier, everyday. I’ve found new authors, bloggers and influencers who inspire me.

And I am basically happier and healthier than I have ever been in my life.

I see 2020 as the doorway into a new decade full of promise. There is so much to be thankful for, and whilst I am aware of some of the weighty issues that we currently face worldwide, I believe that if there is a tsunami of positive energy, we can turn the tide.

Happiness is more than just slapping a smile on your face and pretending that everything is okay.

It is a core belief that the optimistic and positive thoughts of the many can overcome the negativity of those who will just ride the wave of the attitudes of the pessimists.

Be thoughtful and be kind. It will come back to you.

I hope you have had a good year and a good decade and that you are also going into 2020 feeling positive about your future. Happy New Year!

Credit: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Happiness Advent Calendar

I want to put this disclaimer up front because I know that Christmas is a Christian holiday, and not everyone celebrates it.  But this is not about Christmas per se, it’s about daily things that you can do from the first to the twenty-fifth of December.

It’s the end of the year and all around me people are just hanging out for the Christmas break, or end of year holidays, to rest and recharge before starting 2020.  But there is still more than three weeks to go as businesses knuckle down to get work done before the break, and people start the preparations for that one day that some of us celebrate as Christmas.

So I thought it might help to keep your happiness levels up if for the month of December I give you a list of things to do for yourself on a daily basis, sort of like the chocolates that children are opening out of Advent Calendars. 

Start on the first of December and my sincere hope is that this will take you through to Christmas Day, uplifted and optimistic for the year ahead.

1. You have to be number ONE in your world and look after yourself so that you have the strength and resilience to care for others.  Take time today to do something just for you.  Write it down in the morning and check it off tonight.

2. Reach out to two people in your world today with a phone call, email or hand-written letter.  Make it about them, not about you.

3. Write down three things that you are grateful for today.

4. Do four minutes of stretching exercises – calves, stretch and reach for the ceiling, bend forward aiming for the floor (or your knees, or your toes). 

5. Take five minutes today in the silence to close your eyes and focus on your breath.  Don’t force the thoughts out of your head.  You are human so they will keep coming.  Just gently guide your thoughts back to focusing on your breath – in and out.

6. Read six pages of a book – either fiction or non-fiction.  Try to make sure it is uplifting, or that it will capture your imagination to think outside of your normal life.

7. Take time at the end of today to focus on one really good thing that has happened today.  Journal about it. 

8. Aim to get eight hours of sleep tonight.

9. If you have a sedentary job, or life, make sure you get up and walk around at least once an hour today.

10. Drink at least two litres of water today.

11. Now that you have taken time to do the last 10 days, take the time today to write down what difference this discipline has made in your day.

12. Eat whatever foods you want today, but only eat until you are 75% full.

13. Go through the entire day today without complaining about anything.  Look to see the good in every situation.

14. Carve out just thirty minutes today to go for a walk.  Look around you.  Take in the scenery as if you are seeing it for the first time.

15. Practice the Ritz-Carlton 10/5 Rule today.  If you are within 10 feet of someone, make eye contact and smile at them.  If you are within 5 feet, smile and say hello.

16. Declutter something in your life – your office, your bedroom, a cupboard, your magazine rack.  Get rid of what you don’t want or need.  It is holding you back.

17. Donate some money to a charity of your choice today.  December is a really tough month for this industry.  You can do it online.

18. Perform a random act of kindness today.  You do not need to know the receiver.  Just do something nice for someone.  It doesn’t have to cost money.

19, Actively stay off, or minimise your use of, social media and electronic devices today. Don’t touch devices for two hours before you go to bed, and do not sleep with them in your room.

20. Start to think about your Ikigai (see Lesson 3) by asking yourself today, and writing it down, these four things – What do I love?  What am I good at?  What can I be paid for?  What does the world need?

21. Do not watch, listen to or read any news today.  It has been proven that people consuming just three minutes of news in the morning are 27% more likely to report a bad day at work, 6 to 8 hours later in the evening. 

22. Take the time to reflect on your past week, and set some goals around how you want to see this week unfold.  Write these thoughts down.

23. Go to one of those shops with gift trees for children who will get nothing on Christmas day.  Buy a gift to leave under the tree.

24. Work on your personal discipline by doing something different today.  If you don’t normally make your bed – make it.  If you eat the same every day – choose something healthy or vegan or drink tea instead of coffee.  Discipline is like a muscle that will strengthen by putting it under stress.

25. Celebrate today by you having had the discipline to follow through on this list for the past 24 days.  You have done well. 

I hope that you have found some things that you will continue to do into the New Year. 

It is my wish that you have a wonderful day, no matter what you are doing, and that you are kind to yourself.  You deserve it.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Letter To My 21 Year-Old Self

photo by Erwan Hesry

Forty years ago this month I was preparing to go off on what I thought at the time was the biggest adventure of my life. 

As milestones often do, this has prompted me to reflect on what I would tell my younger self if I could write myself a letter and mail it back in time, given the benefit of hindsight.

Born in England to parents who migrated to Australia when I was five, I grew up in this beautiful country without grandparents to visit on the weekend, or cousins, aunts or uncles to share Christmas with. 

Plenty of my school friends had these relatives, so I knew what I was missing.  The result was that even before I hit my teenage years I had a longing to connect with my country of birth and the many relatives that I knew about from my parent’s stories, letters exchanged and ‘important day’ phone calls shared.

This absence of relatives and longing for England does not mean that I had an unhappy childhood.  Far from it.  But I think what it did was it gave me a goal.  A life goal.  I knew that when I was old enough to travel I would go, and I had a sense of independence that I would go on my terms, not as part of a family holiday.

Fast forward to my 21st year, when I had not only the ticket to go but also a best friend to travel with.  However, the circumstances at that time were not perfect. 

Firstly there were some serious problems in my family that threatened to block my plans to leave home.  Then, with six months to go and savings to bolster, the company I worked for closed down. I had no foreseeable prospects for work and a gaping hole in my planned budget.

Looking back, I don’t ever remember wallowing in self-pity. I was positive that this trip was going to transpire.  I do remember my determination to get another job and to honour both the ticket that I had and the goal that was burning inside of me. 

The prospect of the dream I had carried in my heart for so many years was too strong for any negativity to steal it away.  I did get another job for the six months.  I did save money.  My family did support my strong desire to leave. 

Even a serious car accident coming home from my last day at work, only days before departure, did nothing to get in the way of my goal. 

So what would I write to my 21 year old self today about what she thought was the most exciting adventure of her life? Here is a list of just some of my thoughts.

1. Life itself is a great adventure.  Enjoy each day as if it is the greatest gift you have ever been given.

2. Do not let anyone or any set back destroy your dreams, goals or visions for your life.

3. Just because you have achieved this goal, do not rest on your laurels thinking everything you set out to do will work out how you expect.  Sometimes the universe has a different plan for you.

4. Experiences are worth so much more than possessions, gold, money and ‘stuff’.

5. People and relationships are precious – treat them as such.  But if they are not supporting you, your happiness or your well-being, you may have to love them and let them go.

6. The journey of 12,000 miles will take you to meet the love of your life and the best friend ever that you could share that life with.  Keep your eyes peeled for that person.

7. Life is not always going to be smooth sailing.  You will not move forward if there is no wind in your sails.  You have to be prepared to dance when times are great, and hunker down and look for the lessons when they are not.

8. Learn from your mistakes.  They are part of the school of life.   Do not punish yourself.

9. If you don’t learn some lessons the first time around, they will keep coming and knocking at your door.

10. Focus on the positive more than the negative.

11. Be grateful for the blessings in your life.  If you’re not sure what they are, start to write them down.

12 . If you live in the moment and you are optimistic about your plans for the future, then you will live a long and happy life.

As I flew off in 1979 for a 12 month working holiday, who would have ever guessed it would take me 8 years to return with a husband and two beautiful daughters, and that I would have the platform through which to tell that story today?

What is Habit Stacking?

We all have habits built up over our lifetime. How many do you have? 

Don’t immediately go to the bad ones because we all have habits in our daily lives, both good and bad.  You know what the bad ones are, and yours will be different to mine.  But what about the good ones? 

Those things that you do every day without even thinking about it.  Cleaning your teeth, making the bed, setting an alarm, showering.  You’ve done these things for so long that you no longer have to think about them, you just do them.

This week I was reading Arianna Huffington’s blog in Thrive Global on gratitude, a subject very dear to my heart (as is Arianna I have to tell you).  She and I share a habit that I would encourage anyone to introduce into their lives, and that is to journal the things that you are grateful for in your life. 

Gratitude shares the same Latin root – gratus – as the word ‘grace’.  So I would suggest that if you want to live a life of grace, then being aware on a daily basis of what you are grateful for, and journaling it so that the emotion is captured as you write it down, is a good place to start. 

Being grateful for what you have, what you see and what you experience are relatively easy though.  Being grateful for what you would like in your life before you have it, or for the little things rather than the grandiose, or for the lessons being learned in the stressful times, is a much more difficult exercise.  But it is a habit that can reap great benefits.

Gratitude researchers Dr Robert Emmons and Dr Michael McCullough, in their book The Psychology of Gratitude, share their findings of studying two groups of people over the course of several weeks. 

Group One wrote down things they were grateful for and Group Two recorded the things that annoyed them on a daily basis.  At the end of the study the findings were recorded through weeks of surveying both groups. 

Not only were Group One participants more optimistic about their lives, their interpersonal relationships improved and they recorded fewer visits to the doctor. 

To me this supports the saying that you become what you think about all day long.  If you are thinking graciously about your life, giving thanks for your circumstances and the people in it, then you will see and experience good. 

Even better, if you show gratitude to someone else, then you are doubling the blessing.  But if you are focussed on aggravations and grievances, then I believe you are going to keep drawing more of those to you.

But what does all this have to do with the title of today’s blog? 

It’s quite simple really.  Those habits that I reminded you about in the opening, the things that you have learned to do over the course of your lifetime that you now take for granted.  The more you do them, the better you become at them as a result of your brain building strong networks of neurones to support the behaviour.  Habit-stacking just takes advantage of those connections, building new habits into your life by attaching them to existing habits.

So, here is a way to start adding gratitude into your life. 

Each night or morning while you are cleaning your teeth (existing habit) name in your head three things that you are grateful for (desired habit).  Do it for three weeks.  Then reflect on how your general well-being, health, emotional reactions and optimism have improved through habit-stacking.

I challenge you after three weeks, if you do this every day, you will be feeling happier and grateful for the experience.  And remember, after 21 days this should have become a habit in itself. 

After that, start to write down those three things that you are grateful for and see the exponential improvements in your well-being.

Robert Emmons, Ph.D., and Michael McCullough, Ph.D., The Psychology of Gratitude

Steve Scott  Habit Stacking: 127 Small Changes to Improve your Health, Wealth, and Happiness.

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Your Reason for Being

Death is one of the only certainties in life (and they say taxes are the other). How long each of us has before we eventually are taken by this certainty is one of the greatest mysteries we face.

In these two things we are all equal; no matter our birthright, how much money we have amassed or to what higher being we pray to.

Where we are not all equal is how we choose to live the life we have been given. Are you living your life with purpose? Do you know what your reason for being is?

The Japanese have a word for this ‘reason for being’ – Ikigai. ‘Iki’ = life and ‘gai’ = purpose or value.

Specifically in Okinawa the people refer to it as their reason to get up in the morning, which Dan Buettner suggests in his book “Blue Zones” to be the reason why they live long lives of purpose. They do not have a desire to retire and they work well into old age in jobs that bring them pleasure.

As the diagram shows, Ikigai is the nexus of you doing what you are good at, what you love, what the world needs and what you can be paid for. If you think about these four objectives and you believe that you can tick each box, then surely you will feel happy about your lot in life.

The ease of doing what you love and being able to pay your bills with some disposable income is surely the desire of many.
I’ve always been fascinated about the choices people make about the fields in which to study, forge a career or commit to a job. How is it that one person decides to be a dentist, whilst another loves numbers and goes into finance?

Then there are those who make our lives so much easier by being happy to earn a living cleaning, collecting garbage, driving large delivery trucks, upholding the law, putting their lives on the line to fight fires.

We are also blessed with gifted people who bring beauty and art into our lives through fashion, dance, music, art and sculpture. How magical is a world where all the things that need to be done are covered off by people who chose a path in life, forge new entrepreneurial endeavours or randomly fall into a profession?

But what fascinates and delights me the most is the attitude that individuals take into their work, no matter what that work may be. I’ve met people earning minimum wage who take their happy attitude to work with them every day, and share their enthusiastic demeanour with all those whose lives they touch. And on the flip side, I’ve met many earning more money than they can spend who are unhappy, dissatisfied, anxious and depressed.

On a podcast I was listening to recently Oprah Winfrey was relating a story of her early days in television in Chicago. On her drive into work one morning she saw someone walking toward the studio wearing the uniform of the janitorial crew.

She stopped and offered the older gentleman a lift as she was going in the same direction. He gladly accepted, and as they drove they got talking. He explained that he had worked on the cleaning crew for the studio for many years, so Oprah asked him how he enjoyed his job. “Oh, I love working in television” he told her.

What an attitude! What a delightful way to view a job that many people would consider themselves too good for. How many professionals, finding themselves made redundant or facing a downturn in their industry, would consider working in retail, driving a cab, serving in hospitality, or cleaning someone else’s premises?

Do you carry your attitude into the workplace with you? If you do then I hope it is a good one, because the world is relying on all of us to uplift each other.

What is your Ikigai? I hope that you find it.

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

What has made you happy this week?

This is a question that I like to ask myself every Sunday, as I look back on the week just gone and look forward to what the week ahead is going to bring.  

It’s not that I’m going against the mindfulness movement that says you should live in the moment, focusing on the here and now and not whiling away your days harking back to the past or wishing for some time in the future.  Because I subscribe to this line of thinking, I really do. 

I also like to take stock of what has brought me joy this week, and plan some things for the future that I can look forward to.  It is a reminder to me that happiness is a choice and it’s worth remembering what triggers it, and what can steal it away.

So I wanted to share my list with you this week.  Some of them may seem flippant and superficial to you, while others are deep insights that I’ve had that mean a lot to me. 

In no order of importance at all, here goes:

  • Long walks in the Queensland sunshine either by myself or with loved ones
  • Paul and I taking my 85 year old mother out to lunch by the water
  • Finding the perfect foundation that makes me feel a million dollars, and so it should as it was a little ‘spendy’
  • Signing up for the November 10k Multiple Sclerosis Moonlight Walk to help raise money for a good cause
  • Having someone very close to me complain that their weight has crept up unexpectedly, and instead of having no practical advice, being able to tell them that I was in week 4 with WeightWatchers and finding it really easy to keep to the plan
  • Accepting that my 61 year old face has a lot more wrinkles because of the amount of time that I spend either laughing or smiling
  • Keeping to my exercise program all week and moving to a heavier set of weights
  • Having real, honest and open conversations with people at work about issues that matter
  • Living with exceptionally good health
  • Having a great night out tasting wine at the beautiful GOMA in Brisbane, on a ‘school night’
  • Getting into my old ‘skinny’ jeans yesterday and wearing them comfortably all day
  • Phone calls with great friends, including one becoming a grandmother for the first time
  • Watching ‘Street Food’ on Netflix and marvelling at people in their 80s and 90s (and one even over 100) who cook on the streets of nine cities in Asia and have never had a day off, but are so happy with their lives and their contribution to their city
  • Living within spitting distance of Moreton Bay with its beautiful walks and seeing the water first thing in the morning
  • Clearing two bags of clothing out of my wardrobe and having them sent to St Vinnies so the items I previously loved can be re-purposed by someone else
  • Lodging my 2019 tax return
  • Making the decision to have my hair all cut off as the bob I’ve had for years just doesn’t really bring me joy any more
  • Booking an appointment to have my skin checked for sun damage
  • Deciding on a winter mini-break, just for the fun of it.

Some of these may not seem like much, but the exercise is a reminder of all that I have to be grateful for. 

Give yourself the gift of 15 minutes to look back on your week – what has brought you joy?

Random Acts of Kindness

The concept of random acts of kindness is not new, but I don’t think that everyone believes that they have the capacity to be a giver.  People often think that they don’t have enough money to be able to donate to charity or buy another a coffee. 

Others believe they don’t have enough time to give in the service of others for no return.  These are the people who are ignoring the simple gifts they can give that cost nothing, and they don’t understand the enormous results and rewards they can reap in return.

Nearly 20 years ago the movie Pay It Forward made popular a concept of performing acts of kindness toward people, whose only responsibility was to bestow a favour onto someone else in return.

So ‘paying it forward’ rather than the generally thought of ‘paying back’, as is what we often expect when we perform a favour for another.

Random acts of kindness and paying it forward are simply about giving.  Full stop.  No thought of anything in return.  And everyone has something that they can give.  It costs nothing.

The rewards for both the giver and the receiver are immeasurable.  You don’t know what the receiver needs.  Human beings are hard-wired for social connection.  They need to be recognised and heard.  You need to give just for the hell of it. 

A smile, an acknowledgement, a nod of recognition.  A kindly word, a thank you, a hug, a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on cost you nothing.  A thank you note, flowers from your garden, a home-cooked meal cost very little.

Many hotels have adopted the Ritz-Carlton’s 10/5 Rule.  The rule is that when staff are within 10 feet of a guest they are to make eye contact and smile.  When they are within 5 feet they are to smile and say hello.  Imagine how special you would feel staying in a hotel, that made you feel like a really special guest.

It’s simple, it costs nothing, but has become such a successful customer service standard that it has been adopted by other industries such as health care groups and banks. 

The research has shown that not only does the 10/5 Rule result in great customer satisfaction, but it also results in employee retention and improvements to the company bottom line. 

In Before Happiness, Shawn Achor writes about the work he did with the Ochsner Health System staff after Cyclone Katrina to improve performance in hospitals.  Eleven thousand health care providers and administrators were trained in the 10/5 Rule.  What they found was the behaviour became contagious. 

There were no posters up to promote the rule, but patients, visitors and external contractors began to unconsciously follow the patterns exhibited by the staff. 

Even more amazing is that Ochsner found greater improvements in patient health, a 2.1% increase in unique patient visits and the group reporting a $1.8b increase in revenue in 2011.

So, you might be asking, what does this all have to do with me and performing random acts of kindness?

Well, imagine if when you’re out walking or waiting in line to be served you just smile, make eye contact or speak to another person.  Imagine you raise your attention from your phone and just say ‘Hi’ to other people in a lift with you.  You don’t know what they are going through.  You don’t know if all they may need that day to feel connected to the human race is a kind word from someone else. 

Imagine the knock-on benefits of that person acknowledging someone else, just because you raised their spirits for the day.

We all have a level of happiness within that we can share with others.  Even if you don’t feel so happy at the time, the exercise itself will improve your disposition and cause your level of happiness that day to increase. 

Practiced more often, you can actually raise your own baseline of happiness by sharing your smile with someone else.  You can be a warm ray of sunshine affecting not only those you meet, but with further reaching positive consequences than you can imagine.