"My kids are super happy!" a parent recently declared to me. Her kids did seem joyful, often delighted. But they didn't strike me as particularly nice people. Perhaps it was because one had just called my daughter an idiot, and was, at that moment, happily plotting to exclude her from a game.
"Great!" I replied. "Are they also kind?"
I question whether or not we can be truly, lastingly happy--whether we can really lead meaningful, joyful lives--if we are not also kind, generous, compassionate.
I tend to believe His Holiness the Dalai Lama: "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." For those of you who don't buy the Buddhist reasoning, there is also a lot of scientific evidence that happiness and kindness are deeply intertwined (see this post, "What You Get When You Give.")
Here is what World Kindness Week is all about:
The purpose of World Kindness Day is to look beyond ourselves, beyond the boundaries of our country, beyond our culture, our race, our religion, and realize we are citizens of the world. As world citizens we have a commonality, and must realize that if progress is to be made in human relations and endeavors, if we are to achieve the goal of peaceful coexistence, we must focus on what we have in common.
"With all we've got going on," my best friend just said to me, "how in the world are you also going to participate in World Kindness Week? We are already doing too much; we don't have time to volunteer."
I don't think that being kind needs to take extra time. (Again, I like to quote the Dalai Lama: "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.") Here is what I plan to do this week to foster kindness:
(1) Praise kind acts whenever I see them. Last night Molly gave her jacket to her shivering older sister. Instead of pointing out that she'd finally found someone to carry the jacket she didn't want to wear, I praised her empathy (noticing her sister was cold) and kind gesture.
(2) At dinner every night this week, we'll talk about kindness. Who did something kind for you today? What did YOU do that was kind?
(3) We'll plan our holiday party, which will aim to help others. One year, for example, we collected food for the food bank. What will we do this year? Although this might take time, it also gives kids a giant sense of power: They can make a positive difference in someone else's life.
Mark Juarez, author of Charlie's Thinking Cheese, sent me an amazing box of kindness goodies with which we'll also be playing. Mark is on a mission to make the world a better place through small acts of kindness. His "food for thought and inspiration" box includes a heart-warming book, appreciation cards, inspirations cards, appreciation notes, and stickers. Lots of material for World Kindness Week!
How will you foster kindness this week? Do you think it is possible to be truly happy, but not kind? What do you already do to foster kindness in your kids?
© 2010 Christine Carter, Ph.D.
Christine Carter, Ph.D. is a sociologist at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, best known for her science-based parenting advice. She is the author of "Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents," and she teaches an online parenting class for a global audience.