Meditation for Modern Life

Mindfulness skills from a well being expert

How to Make Happiness a Priority Throughout Your Day

Practicing Loving Kindness at the Gas Pump

Happiness
I recently visited my local gas station and handed the attendant a $20 bill. As always, he asked which pump my car was parked next to, and he then activated it from his register. When I finished refueling, I realized that he’d authorized me to pump $30 of gas instead of $20. I quickly headed back to the cashier, explained what had happened, and handed him $10. He looked at me with surprise and thanked me multiple times. My interaction with the cashier inspired me to write about the benefits of being kind, honest, and loving others.

The Golden Rule, Rules

So what motivated me to hand him $10 when I could have just as easily driven off with free gas? My actions were rooted in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would like done to you.” As I left the gas station, I wondered why the attendant was so surprised by my actions, and then I considered a scenario where our roles were reversed. What if I was the gas station attendant? First off, it would mean that I’d be earning minimum wage. If my boss were to determine that my register was short $10, I could get into big trouble—perhaps even fired. And if I did lose my job, I’d be hard pressed to find another given the tough state of our economy.

Furthermore, the gas station attendant was a middle-aged man, who may have been supporting a family. So with a minimum wage job, he was probably struggling to make ends meet. Judging by the deep gratitude that he expressed when I handed him the $10 bill, I’m sure the consequences of making the mistake weighed heavily on him. This example points to how being honest and helpful positively influences those around you. But I’d argue that you’re the one who benefits most from acting kindly.

If you interact with others with honesty, kindness, and respect, you will then expect others to treat you the same way. As far as I’m concerned, this is how I view life. Of course, this expectation isn’t always met as planned. But during times when I don’t get back what I put forth, I interpret the experience as an exception rather than the rule. I think to myself, “This person (who behaved rudely or unkindly to me) is probably just having a bad day or going through a rough time. I’ll choose not to judge, and I hope the best for him or her.”

Leading your life with this perspective will benefit you beyond words. The only way to verify this is to try it out for yourself. In my case, because this has been my way of life for so long, I really do expect others to treat me as I treat them. For instance, I’ve often left my wallet, keys, and other valuables in crowded places like airports and malls. When this happens, I expect whatever I misplaced to either still be there or turned in by a stranger. And believe it or not, that’s usually the case. You may just attribute that to luck. But to be honest, my belongings don’t always turn up. When they don’t, however, I try not to worry about it. In fact, rather than dwell on what happened, I tell myself, “That’s how life rolls. Sometimes things get lost, but most of the time things turn out well.” Because I do my best to treat others well, the positive energy that I put forth usually seems to be returned more often than not.

Change Your Perspective and Your Life Changes

Like most of you, I’ve been the victim of theft, dishonesty, and unethical behavior. But when bad things happen, I don't spend time and energy thinking about them. Rather, I focus on my belief that most people are like me, and so I expect them to treat my kindly in return. Because this is the point of view that I hold, I view and experience life this way.

For example, if I’m at a store and encounter a rude salesperson, I think to myself, “He must be having a bad day. Maybe I can do something to make it better, you never know,” and sometimes I can. There are times when I can’t, but that’s just how life is. The key is to not let another person ruin my day.

When you treat others kindly and with love, and learn to expect the same, you also increase your chances of increasing happiness in your life. It’s not that taking on this state of being will guarantee that everyone will be kind to you, but your expectations will increase the odds of it happening. You’ll become attracted to those who treat you similarly. Over time, you’ll surround ourselves with kind, loving, and honest people.

Allow me to illustrate through providing a Las Vegas example. Because math is one of my strengths, I understand that when it comes to casinos, the odds are unequivocally stacked against me. So if the casino can compel me to gamble, statistically speaking, my money will from move from my wallet to their bank accounts. Because I’m fully aware of the science of gambling in Las Vegas, it takes the fun out of doing it. Similarly, as a clinical psychologist, I’m trained to understand people. Because I identify individuals as kind, loving, and honest, I am attracted towards people with similar characteristics. Thus my knowledge of people influences my interaction with them. When people don’t act in accordance with my understanding of others, rather than allowing their behavior to change my perspective and derail my day, I take it as a learning opportunity. For example, I may cease to socialize with someone who is unkind or unethical.

If you make it a habit to approach your day extending kindness, love, and honesty towards others, the full impact of your actions will transform the world around you in ways that you could never possibly predict. One of my favorite sayings is, “If you pull a blade of grass from the ground, the entire universe shakes.” Your acts of kindness, both big and small, can produce extraordinary results.

So if you see yourself taking a confrontational stance towards your world, and it’s making you misearable, try my approach. Rather than having the attitude of “My dukes are up. Don’t get to close or I’ll punch,” envision a perspective where you think, “I’d sure like to give you a hug. I love you.” This is honestly the attitude that I maintain, and one that I encourage you to consider. When you reach out to others with loving kindness, see if those around you reciprocate with equal amounts of positivity most of the time. Over the long term, I believe that you’ll discover that life flows better.

 

Robert Puff, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist who has been in private practice for over 20 years.

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