H.O.W. to Find and Share the Good in Your Life
Hopeless to Happiness
Two thousand twelve is almost over, and many of us will be quite thankful for that. Let’s face it, this has been a difficult year for many people touched by the variety of sicknesses, natural disasters, and man-made sorrows which seemed to define who we were this year. We are about to embark upon a new year. With that knowledge comes hope: hope for happiness, hope for health, hope for peace, hope for prosperity…hope that we can redefine who we are. It is our chance to start anew and put the seemingly hopeless things of the old year behind us. Just like we all needed a little Christmas (Hanukkah, Kwanza, Festivus), we also all need to find the happiness that lurks somewhere in our miniscule lives. Sometimes we even need to find a way to create that happiness in the lives of others. Below are some ideas to get you (and me) started.
Ways to Share with Others
1. An Act of Kindness Jar: Fill a large jar or canister with 365 slips of paper, each one with an act of kindness written on it. (Extra Challenge: Come up with a different act for each slip of paper, rather than repeating any.) Each morning, without looking into the jar, pull out one slip of paper and find a way to perform the act before the end of the day. Have another jar available to deposit the paper into at the end of the day. That way, you can look back upon your kindnesses at the end of the year and feel good about all that you have done, and realize the impact that you have had.
Here are fifty-four ideas to get you started. While it is true that some require more than a day to finish, the planning, quite often, can be completed in one day, or broken into chunks to each be completed in a day.
1)call an older neighbor just to talk; 2)slip a dollar bill beneath a stranger’s window wiper in a store parking lot; 3)surprise a neighbor with a cleared walkway; 4)choose someone you wouldn’t ordinarily send a greeting card to and send them a “Thinking of You” card (you can even sign it “a friend” or “someone who cares”); 5)send a Thank You” card to someone that might not know that they’ve ever done anything for you (maybe it was something as little as a smile they gave you on a day you needed a smile); 6)buy some new books and donate them to a school library; 7)buy some school supplies and donate them to a local school; 8)before leaving a fast-food restaurant purchase a gift card and give it to a homeless person nearby; 9)offer to read the newspaper to an elderly neighbor or relative (It might sound morbid, but they especially like to hear the obituaries so they know if a friend has died); 10)when on the way to the store call a neighbor to see if you can pick anything up for him/her; 11)when fixing a large batch of vegetable soup, fix extra and deliver it to an elderly neighbor, a single parent, your pastor, or even a really busy family; 12)purchase a basket of toiletries suitable for a nursing home resident and drop it off; 13)purchase a basket of toiletries suitable for a new mother and drop it off at your local hospital; 14)send a card to a nursing home patient who has no family; 15) visit a nursing home patient who has no family; 16)contact the chaplain’s office at your local hospital and ask for the first names of critically ill patients, then go to the chapel and say a prayer for them; 17)choose someone who has lost a parent in the last few months and send them a card; 18)call someone who has lost a spouse in the last few months and check in with him/her; 19)offer to clean the house of a friend who has been ill; 20)cook dinner for a family with a new baby; 21)when your waitress or cashier asks how you are, answer and then ask him/her the same thing (and wait for an answer); 22)if you are able, buy a gas card for someone who has trouble making ends meet; 23)let the person behind you in the checkout go ahead of you, even if they have a lot of items; 24)carry your neighbor’s recycle bins/garbage cans back to the house to save him/her the trip; 25)offer to watch a friend or relative’s children so he and his wife can have a date night; 26)offer to watch the children of all of your siblings or cousins so that they may have a day out to Christmas shop; 27)decorate a sick friend’s Christmas tree; 28)if you have a special skill, work with your church or neighborhood group to give free instruction; 29)start a neighborhood group that will work as a village to teach the children of the neighborhood a variety of skills and crafts; 30)plan a neighborhood party (each family can bring something to it; 31)plan a neighbor helping neighbor event (younger members of the community will take care of odd jobs that elderly and widowed members can no longer do; 32)help a veteran get to the doctor; 33)offer to write letters for older or wounded veterans as they dictate to you; 34)give a caregiver an afternoon or evening off (make certain that you have all necessary emergency numbers medical instructions, etcetera; 35)gather up good, used board games and deliver them to a hospital, nursing home, or other facility; 36)send inspirational cards to young people who are wards of the juvenile justice system; 37)send a “Thank You” card to a judge, police officer, minister, or community leader who you think goes above and beyond to help the youth in the community; 38)plan a card shower for an elderly neighbor about to have a milestone birthday; 39)leave an unopened cellophane-wrapped basket of fruit on someone’s porch, ring the bell, and leave; 40)leave an unopened box of chocolates on someone’s porch, ring the bell, and leave; 41)sign up to become a mentor through Big Brothers/Big Sisters or another community-based mentoring program; 42)sign up to tutor students after school at the school one to two days per week; 43)volunteer to run errands for a busy pastor or nun at church; 44)volunteer to read during story hour at your local library; 45)at a fast-food restaurant, pay for the order of the car behind you along with the message, “I hope you are having a great day!”; 46)when buying a rawhide or toy for your pet, buy one for your neighbor’s pet as well; 47)when buying pet food, purchase an extra bag and deliver it to your local animal shelter 48)adopt a lonely person to spend time with throughout the year; 49)help an older relative with ancestry research; 50)buy a gallon of milk for a family with lots of children; 51)volunteer to plan a soup supper at your church; 52)volunteer to plan an auction for a good cause; 53)take a family with limited funds on your next family outing to the zoo, a picnic, fishing, bowling, etc.; 54)at a diner look around for someone who touches your heart and anonymously pay for his/her meal. The list is endless and very fulfilling!
2. Make a Party an Event with a Cause: Who doesn’t like a good party? I love to throw parties, which allows me to dote on my family and friends, and to spend fun, quality time with the people I love. However, there is no reason why it can’t also be a great time to do something good for somebody else. My ideas follow:
1)If throwing a party around April 15, ask guests to bring a baby item to be donated to an unwed mothers’ program, or other suitable program, in honor of their little tax deduction; 2)if throwing a Kentucky Derby party, ask guests to donate to Rescueme.org (or some other horse rescue group); 3)if throwing a party around 4th of July or Veterans Day, ask guests to bring an item to donate to a veterans’ hospital; 4)If hosting a St. Patrick’s Day party, or a party near the time of National Holocaust Remembrance Day, invite guests to donate to the Southern Poverty Law Center to help supply tolerance education materials to schools; 5)if hosting a Valentine’s Day party, ask guests to bring an appropriate item to be donated to a military person serving overseas; 6)if the entire neighborhood is suffering from cabin fever in the midst of a snowstorm, surprise your neighbors by hosting a neighborhood luau complete with Hawaiian music, leis, tropical drinks, and grilled shrimp and fish; have your guests bring canned or boxed goods which will be donated to a local pantry.
3. Spin Your Answer: When giving feedback to anyone, find a way to spin it to sound positive. For instance, instead of saying, “Mary, you just don’t seem to be understanding that concept,” try “Mary, that was a good try. Let me see if I can explain it better.”
4. Flash Mob Song: OK, this one will take some planning. Talk to the manager of a local “box store”, mall, restaurant, or airport to plan a time when you and a large group of friends (preferably those who can sing well and are willing to practice a song) can perform a flash mob. An idea situation is to spread across through the checkout area of a large store, or while seated throughout a large area of a popular restaurant. It definitely puts a smile on the faces of the patrons of the business.
5. Free Performance: Even if you can’t do it as a flash mob, find a time when a mall or airport will allow your group to perform as travelers are preparing for their flights, or arriving to your town. Of course a great time of year to do this is during the December holidays, but you can plan it to coincide with a big event in your town. I grew up In Louisville, the home of the fastest two minutes in sports, The Kentucky Derby. I can think of nothing better to greet Derby visitors with than some peppy songs and a rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home” as they begin a fun-filled, whirlwind trip to the Derby City.
The Best Flash Mob
Don’t Forget Yourself
When planning and doing for others, you have got to remember to take time for yourself. Happiness is everywhere, and that includes for you, too.
1. An Act of Kindness Journal: Every evening reflect on your Act of Kindness for the day. Write anywhere from a few lines to a few paragraphs about what you did, how it was received, how it made you feel to see your good work in action. At the end of the year you will have a year’s worth of memories, and you can look back on them for years to come.
2. A Happiness Jar: Beginning on January 1 find one thing every day that made you happy, write it on a slip of colored paper, and place it in a large clear jar. (The colored slips will even make it look happy, but you could also decorate the jar.) I know what you’re thinking, “But I’m not happy every day.” I guarantee you that there is at least one thing to be happy about every single day. I watched my mother suffer for years with Emphysema, COPD, and Lymphoma, but there was not a single day that she didn’t find a reason to laugh or crack a joke about something. Even the day that my family and I sat at the funeral home making final arrangements for her burial, we laughed a lot (and yes, some of it was at Mom’s expense). I am certain that Mom was laughing with us from above.
3. Resuscitate: Turn the television and the computer off, and don’t be afraid of the silence. Sometimes you just need to breathe and reflect. I spent a great deal of the last five weeks doing this. Life had become to confusing and hectic at times, so I found moments in my days when I could just shut down and find me. It was during those times that I realized my many blessings that truly make me happy. For example, when I worried about my dad, I reminded myself that a year and a half ago we thought that we had lost him. How blessed I am that I was recently able to celebrate his eightieth birthday. When I was having a bad morning recently, I decided to stare out into the cold snow that had fallen overnight. I was suddenly amazed at the beauty I was seeing, and found a happiness to treasure.
It is up to us to resuscitate ourselves, and find our daily happiness. Sometimes all it takes are a few pointed questions: What went right in my day? What made me laugh? What touched my heart? What could have been worse? What do I look forward to tomorrow?
4. Say a Prayer/Give a Hope: This last one is two-fold. You are doing for others, but by doing it you are actually doing much for yourself. Say a prayer or give a hope for someone that you might otherwise have ill feelings toward. I have to be honest, this is the one that I have been struggling with, but with which I believe I have finally come to terms. There is a group of individuals which has deliberately hurt me – career-wise, health-wise, financially, and emotionally - all for their own personal gain. I could go through life having the worst thoughts about them (and I have), and holding my breath for them to reap what they have sown. That’s not healthy for me, nor is it setting a good example for my students. Instead, I owe it to all concerned to pray that these individuals change their ways and become better human beings. If I want to see a change, it is up to me to be the change. If we all become part of the solution, rather than part of the problem, happiness will abound!
When All is Said and Done
With any luck 2013 will prove to be a positive turning point for all of humanity. Perhaps our world will become one in which we are there for one another, rather than tearing each other down. Maybe our differences will finally be seen as small compared to our numerous similarities, while still allowing us to appreciate our diversities. Then it might be possible that we will join forces to use our combined skills and talents in an effort to solve what needs to be solved, and take care of the resources that were so freely given to us. There is always that hope.