Lessons From the Other Side of 80
Every day in a neighborhood close to where I live there is an elderly man that stands on the corner and gives a wave and a smile to everyone who passes by. When I stop to talk to him, he simply looks like a very happy person. There have been a number of occasions where I’ve brought my son to the corner where he is and the man does what he can to make my son smile. When he does smile all of us brighten up. I started to get the notion that he has set an intention to live the rest of his life to help others have moments of joy and this makes him happy. I thought, maybe he's knows something I can learn from.
Some say happiness is a goal of life; I’m not as into that notion because I think it’s a mind trap. Walter Landor said, “As soon as we wish to be happier, we are no longer happy.” However, there is something about setting an intention to bring kindness into the world that has a reverberating effect on our own psyches. In other words, intentionally being a source of joy to others, can cultivate joy within ourselves.
That may sound like a chicken and the egg scenario if you’re not feeling well, but it’s not. Even when we’re depressed or anxious we can smile and say thank you. The way I like to explain it is putting our feet in front of our heads. This means even though our thoughts tell us “I don’t want to do that” we take the action anyway. It’s this action that can begin to change our thoughts.
In fact, in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) there is an approach called Opposite Action. This means, when something comes up do the exact opposite of what your mind tells you to do. So if you’re angry and you feel like throwing something at someone, the opposite of that would be to do something kind for them. Or if you’re anxious and you feel like avoiding something, take a few steps closer. When done in the appropriate situations, this can help to diminish fear and anger. DBT was created to help people regulate their emotions, manage their distress better, and become more effective in their relationships.
What would it be like to intentionally try to bring kindness or joy into this world for the sake of others? Many people might give the advice that we need to take care of ourselves first before we can take of others. But what if bringing kindness in the world was a way of taking care of ourselves? Altruism is well known for having a positive effect on our well-being. The trick here is that we genuinely have to do this for the sake of the other to receive the benefits of altruism.
So go ahead and try this as an experiment today, smile at someone, buy someone flowers, make a meal for a loved one, or just send someone an email telling them that you love them.
Why wait to bring this action into the world?
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.