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Put positive energy into the world, befriend people that inspire you, and remember that life is too short to read the same book twice. Impressive people have offered all sorts of good advice this week (I even learned how to fold a fitted sheet), but the happiest piece of wisdom came from my friend, Dipti.   
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Dipti and I have been trying to finagle our way into an aerial yoga class for the past week or so (did you realize these places book 3 weeks out??), and the process of securing a Groupon and scheduling a date had has us messaging back and forth for a couple days.  In the middle of our planning, Dipti asked if we could organize a random act of happiness for the immediate future.  I answered yes, of course, and asked what she had in mind.
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Flash forward a couple days and we’re running amok on Bryant Street with sprinkled-cones for construction workers.  We exchanged sweet treats for smiles and ended up having an afternoon that promises to become a ‘remember when’ story.

digital kindness

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Aristotle says that information goes viral if it simultaneously evokes ethos (ethics), pathos (logic), and logos (emotion).  Stories of kindness definitely fit that bill, and that’s why we’ve all heard about the diner who left a $1,000 tip, the homeless man that returned a diamond ring, and the enormous support San Francisco gave Batboy.

There are all sorts of platforms and suggestions promoting various ways of committing a ‘real world’ act of kindness, but how do we commit an online act of kindness?  As our real life and online worlds slowly intersect and collide, it’s important that we’re able to fill our online communities with the same kindness that we fill our daily lives with.  But how do we get started?

We have some shining examples: Michelle Sollicito started the Facebook group “SnowedOutAtlanta” to help more than 55,000 people track the safety of their loves ones; The anonymous woman who bought pizza for a hungry family on Reddit; Ann Curry created #26Acts to unite people performing random acts of kindness as a tribute to the Sandy Hook victims.  Individuals aren’t the people committing acts of kindness online: ToysForTots allows people to make online requests for toy for disadvantaged children, and KIVA provides microloans to people around the world with money raised through online networks.
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Below are some more suggestions for bringing kindness online:

-Be a connector, if you know of something that will help someone else, send an email and let them know about it.  Sometimes it’s as simple as connecting a Facebook connection with a LinkedIn connection or sharing information from an online article with someone interested in the topic.

-Promote a cause with your networks.  Passionate about urban revival or education?  Take a stand and use your social networks to promote people working to make a positive.

-Send fan mail.  If you’re consistently impressed by someone’s work digital portfolio or online writing, go ahead and let them know.  So often we think of people behind the screen as distant or foreign, but they’re really just ordinary people working hard to produce a good product.

-Donate online.  This one is so easy that it might seem like a copout, but if you’re pressed for time and carrying extra cash, why not support a cause? There are all sorts of nonprofits, both local and international, that accept online donations and would be grateful for your support.

-Share your skills and expertise with the online community.  Is there something you’re particularly knowledgeable about that might help someone else?  I can’t tell you how valuable I found online tutorials and DIY blogs and How-To articles.  Maybe not your typical ‘act of kindness,’ but saves me from buying books and calling experts and wondering how in the world I accomplish this that and the other.

-Volunteer online.  If you can’t find a volunteer position that matches your talents and interests in you community, there are lots of ways to get involved online.  The University of Nevada, for instance, has an online volunteer forum that connects individuals with volunteer organizations all over the world.

-Offer free stuff on Craigslist.  Have a microwave you no longer need?  What about a really good book that’s just sitting on your shelf?  Post useful things you no longer need on the ‘free’ section of Craigslist to help people searching for exactly what you’re no longer using.

-Review on Yelp and TripAdivsor and other crowd-source review sites.  Again, perhaps not a traditional act of kindness, but if you’ve received great service – tell other people about it.  On the other hand, if something could be improved, let others know so that they can be prepared.

-Every day kindness.  This almost goes without saying, but when we’re interacting in online communities we would be well served to remember that we aren’t interacting with screens, but with the people behind them.  Be polite and honest and friendly to the icons and usernames you encounter.

On a related note, next week is Interactional Random Acts of Kindness week.
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Need inspiration? Check out these places:

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cold hands, warm hearts

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Let no love go unspoken. I’m a romantic about my love life, true, but I’m also a romantic in general: I’m in love with the sincerity of friendships, the loyalty of family, the pride of communities, the history of cultures, the transcendence of stories, and the beauty of nature.  That’s right, I’m pretty wrapped up in love.

Can you guess which holiday is my favorite?  Hint: It comes in February and encourages us to be grateful for the people we love.
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Valentine’s Day gets a bad reputation from skeptics claiming the holiday is a consumer trap that alienates the lonely.  But that’s a pretty superficial description, isn’t it?

At it’s core, Valentine’s Day encourages us to reflect on the sources of love in our life, and then, in turn, speak out about that love.  Give sweet notes to your neighbors.  Bake cookies for your friends.  Let your children know they’re loved.  And, if you’re lucky, wrap your sweetheart in kisses.
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The Wall Street Journal published an article about the benefits of instilling gratitude in young children.  The study found that people with a “strong appreciation of other others reported having higher GPAs, less depression and envy and a more positive outlook than less grateful teens.” 

In my book, Valentine’s Day offers an ideal opportunity for reflecting on gratitude and sharing our appreciation for the people that brighten our world every day.  
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To get people thinking about ‘who they love’ (excuse the grammatical error, didn’t want to be stuffy about street art), I did a little Valentine’s Day inspired rah rah rah project.
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happy contagion

The pursuit of happiness is a bit selfish, right? Well, no, not really.  Happy individuals are more likely to contribute to society, and their joy is capable of increasing the happiness of community members.  Does the logic sound sketchy?  Here are some facts:

  • Personal suffering takes up a lot of time and energy.  It’s difficult to think about the concerns of the community until you’re comfortable with your own situation.   Happy people, by contrast, are less concerned with their own well-being, and more likely to spend time solving social problems.  Scientists have confirmed a link between happiness and volunteerism.  It seems happy people are consistently looking to give back to the community that fulfills them.  You know the saying misery loves company? Well so does happiness. When you’re happy, you want to share your joy with the people around you.
  • Scientists have confirmed that the happiest people are social creatures that are actively involved in the lives of the people around them.  Surprised?  As a category, social people are more likely to be happy than individuals with hefty bank accounts, regular exercise regimens, or rewarding careers.  A strong social network ensures that we’re aware of the needs of the people around us.  Your sister is going to the airport?  Offer her a ride.  A friend is nervous about a doctor appointment?  Tag along for moral support.
  • Happiness is contagious (emotional contagion) and simply being happy increases the joy of the people around you.  You know about the yawn effect, right?  You yawn and then suddenly the people around you are yawning too?  Well emotions, including happiness, work in a similar way.   Notably, social scientists have confirmed that happiness extends to 3 degrees of separation – that means that your happiness is capable of increasing the happiness of your sister, your sister’s friend, and your sister’s friend’s mom.  Incredible, right?  What’s more, if you’re going through a slump, having a network of happy people increases your chances of becoming happy in the future.  Investing in happy friends almost seems like an insurance policy for a happy future, right?

If being happy is key to increasing the happiness of others, then it almost seems like a duty to make ourselves happy, right?  What little things do you do to increase your own happiness?

busy buying happiness

Jon called around lunch to see how my day was going, and I answered in a rush, “babes, can I call you back? I’m busy buying happiness.” The hubs knows my quirks, so he didn’t ask any questions – just told me he wanted details at dinner.

I try to keep a light tone with most of my rah rah rah posts, but the experiments are usually inspired by a scientific theory on happiness.  My research comes from The Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, The Center for Compassion and Altruism at Stanford University, and, of course, the talented community at TED.

A 2011 TED talk by Michael Norton argued that we can buy happiness if we spend money on others.   What’s more, Norton stated that we can increase our own happiness by spending as little as $5 on another person. $5 for happiness? That sounds like a bargain to me.
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I decided to test his theory at one of my favorite places on earth, Forever Yogurt.  A new shop just opened up in south Minneapolis, and so I decided to spend the afternoon buying ice cream for whomever walked in the door.  Well, up to $20.
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A woman entered the ice cream shop a few minutes after I finished a tub of  Angel Food Cake/Pumpkin Pie/Nutella, and I was ready to go.  I creepily watched as she filled her bowl of ice cream, loaded up on toppings, and made her way to the register.  And then, it was my moment – I intercepted her at the register and offered to pay.  I said it would make my day if we should let me buy her ice cream.

The woman looked confused, at first, and then she started beaming, “Stuff like this never happens to me.  Thank you so much.”

Isn’t that what people say when they win the lottery or receive an honorary PhD?  Could the free ice cream really have made her that happy?  It seemed so.
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The second woman I approached walked in smiling, seemed to get happier as she picked out her ice cream, and was just about over the moon when I offered to pay for it.  She didn’t seem surprised at all, just laughed and said she would pay-it-forward by the end of the day.
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The final stranger (they were getting massive bowls of ice cream and $20 only goes so far) was a young girl on her lunch break from the clothing boutique next door.  She said she’d heard about random acts of kindness before, but didn’t think they were common enough to happen to her.  She also said the free ice cream ‘made her day’, and that she was excited to tell her friends about the random act of kindness.
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It appeared to me that the strangers were all happier as a result of the free ice cream, but this project was intended to make me happier, not them.  I choose to buy things for strangers, as opposed to friends or family, because I like the idea that they can’t pay me back.  If I bought my friend a t-shirt, she would bring me a book the next day, and the cycle of giving would never end.  A stranger, however, could only repay me by helping another stranger.  A lovely circle, right?

But anyway, I digress.  Did the project work?  Absolutely, but not like I thought it would.  It’s nice to see people get excited, but that alone doesn’t increase my happiness.  What did make me happy, however, was the feeling that I had spent my time wisely.  If I did nothing else today, I had made 3 people smile, and, hopefully, inspired them to feel more compassion for strangers.  I had devoted $20 and 2 hours toward promoting kindness, and that, dear readers, did make me very happy indeed.