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September 22, 2014

My Five Lessons from a Mindful Month of Kindness. ~ Sue Nussbaum

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First, read this: 8 Things you would Learn from this Kindness Challenge. 

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Looking for a deeper connection to those sweet humans around you? Me too.

Four weeks ago, I set out to perform an act of kindness every day for 30 days.

My goal was to fill my soul and learn about myself in the act of giving to others. What I got back from this experience was much more than what I gave.

Here are the five key lessons I learned over the last 30 days:

1. It is easy to spend money, but there are countless free ways to share kindness.

Whether giving a larger tip to a waitress, sending flowers or making a donation to a charity, there are many opportunities to be kind while spending money. It can be challenging to move away from this type of kindness. But, there is no doubt that those in receipt of flowers, chocolate popcorn, candy and tips are probably the happiest recipients of kindness. I love getting flowers and gifts, so why wouldn’t others?

That said, acts of kindness can be simple and meaningful without spending money. Holding an umbrella, picking up a shirt that has fallen in the sand at the beach, holding a door open or picking up a dropped package are all wonderful acts of kindness. I have learned to feel satisfied with these small gestures because I’m still taking an extra step—often with a stranger—to say I care about you and the way we treat each other.

2. Saying thank you is a powerful act.

Texting, emails and phone calls are all meaningful ways to say thank you. This month, I started writing thank you notes again. There is something connecting to putting pen to paper. Although I’m a baby boomer and we always used to write thank you notes, I’m appreciating it now more than ever. Even though my kindness challenge is over, I will continue my writing journey.

3. Family and friends should receive most of our kindness.

I have always taken more from relationships than I have received. It takes effort to call friends, make plans, check on how they are doing or circle back on earlier discussions. My two sisters-in-law are experts at giving to friends and family. They always call, send a card on birthdays and anniversaries and check on me. So, I decided I could learn from them and be more consistent and put in more effort. As you can imagine, the payoff has been tremendous. This is truly when we get back more than we give.

Reconnecting with friends that I have let go has also been exciting. I phoned one friend on her birthday who I hadn’t communicated with for six years! She has a degenerative illness which has progressed since I last spoke with her. I plan to keep in touch with her, but the effort of continuing this relationship is in my hands. I reconnected with other friends during the month and look forward to rebuilding relationships that have grown distant.

4. The big stuff.

Twice this month I took big steps in acts of kindness. The first act happened when I was on my way to get my yearly mammogram. I was at the elevator when I noticed a woman who needed help finding the Breast Center. She was not steady on her feet and told me that she had just been discharged from the hospital. She did not feel well and complained about headaches, eye pain and other issues of concern.

I held onto her and took her to the Breast Center, but as we talked, I realized she needed more help. Was I going to do anything or just assume she would be fine? Maybe someone else would help? these are the questions I struggled with, but only for a few moments. I gathered myself and walked to the reception desk and asked for transportation to take her to the Emergency Room.

An ambulance was sent over and after my appointment, I went over to the ER and checked on her. As a physician, I thought I could help expedite her visit and offer her support. She was waiting to be seen but was in the system, in the process, and I chose to wish her well and leave.

So, why not take the extra step and sit with her until she was evaluated? When do we step out of giving kindness and when do we stay engaged? I had nowhere to be for a few hours, but I chose not to stay with her. Wasn’t this the real test of my month?

Thinking back on that day, I regret not staying with her, and know that next time I will make a different choice. The biggest acts of kindness require us to finish the act, commit ourselves and stay connected. These are the moments we are truly tested.

5. Include yourself in acts of kindness.

Halfway through the month, it occurred to me that I can apply these acts of kindness to myself. I treat myself really well on my birthday, but that’s only one time per year. Maybe I need to give myself other “self-kindness” days. And it doesn’t always have to involve money—but it can! Taking a walk, going to yoga class and watching a favorite movie are some of my favorites. A trip to the spa is also a special treat.

In summary, my commitment to regular acts of kindness will continue past my 30 days. It is now a more regular part of my day and I am more aware of my actions towards others. And, if I miss a day, I can take one for my own team!

I invite you to take the challenge of kindness for 30 days and visit #mindfulgiving30 to tell others what you are doing and most importantly, what you are learning about yourself.

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Bonus—Five Additional Benefits of Kindness:

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

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