Research completed on over 400,000 people showed that physical exercise, even just 15 minutes a day, can actually lengthen your life span. Getting up off the couch and just doing something physical could be the key to longevity.
Think about what 15 minutes a day could do if you exercised your emotional muscles and found a way to deliberately be kind and compassionate toward another person. What if instead of trying to immediately change yourself into a constantly nice person, just like taking the short walk around the block instead of training for the triathlon, you found one person, for 15 minutes each day, to whom you could extend a kind word, a nice smile or a helping hand?
When it comes to being kinder and gentler, too many people think it requires a major transformation. If you weren’t nice today or you “lost it” when that person cut you off in traffic, or when someone had 15 items in the “10 items only” line, you may think being kind is not something you are cut out to do. We expect to be able to live blissfully and kindly no matter what the external events may bring.
So, what if you just set a goal of 15 minutes each day? You could be more focused and more determined, just like with physical exercise, if you knew you were only looking for 15 minutes to be kind and caring about someone else. In fact, there are so many kind things you can do in only 2-5 minutes! Sometimes taking a small step can lead to a larger one, but even if you stayed at the 15-minute level every day, you’d be getting more and more exercise for the emotional “nice muscle” inside. What sorts of thoughtful or kind things could you do in 15 minutes? Here are some ideas; some will appeal to you more than others, depending on your financial and physical limitations:
- Call someone you know is lonely just to say “hi” (if you don’t know anyone, ask for names from a local church or nursing home – there are plenty of people out there wishing for just one phone call!)
- Offer to carry groceries or bags for someone you observe to be struggling
- Bite your tongue – instead of saying the critical or negative thing you really want to say to your child, spouse or significant other, bite your tongue. Just hold it and refuse to give voice to the negativity.
- Praise someone for something they do right – catch someone you care about or someone you know doing something well or positive and compliment them on it
- Write a letter or send a card to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while
- Pay the toll for the person behind you on the tollway
- Leave a bouquet of flowers on the doorstep of a neighbor who might be widowed or lonely
- Smile and say “good morning” to someone when walking down the street (assuming you live in an area where this is safe to do! Use your judgment.)
- Look the harried clerk or waitress in the eye and say “Thank you for what you do.”
- Don’t rush out of a store on to the next thing – take time for a gracious “thank you” and smile at whoever you see as you walk out
- If someone is unkind to you, turn away. Don’t react to their negative and unkind state; instead, choose to ignore it and move on
- Choose not to litter if you are ready to throw something away. Put it in your pocket until you see a trash receptacle
- Visit your local animal shelter and walk a lonely dog, or visit with the cats or rabbits
- Call your local nursing home and see if you can visit for a few minutes with residents there
- Let someone who is waiting to enter a roadway go ahead of you or enter traffic. Slow down to be deliberate about this
- Stop and buy lemonade from the children you may pass in the neighborhood selling it, and leave an extra 50 cents
- Post a nice message on someone’s Facebook page, thanking them for being a friend or for doing something well
- Buy a pack of note cards and send one a day to your mother, father, sister, or brother, or some friend
- Write a note and leave it on a colleague’s desk thanking them for the work they do each day
- Say “thank you” with a kind smile to a police officer, a fire fighter, the pilot on your plane, or the taxi or bus driver
- Stop and breathe – when you breathe in take deep long breaths, and when you breathe out say “thank you” for whatever blessings you may have. The more thankful and grateful you feel inside, the easier it is to express gratitude on the outside.
Don’t limit your niceness to 15 minutes a day if you want to do more, but commit to find some time – each and every day – to both get off the couch and get your physical muscles moving, and find those places to get your nice muscles moving!