How often have you heard the expression that she is a real light onto the world or he is such a bright light in the family? Being a light for other people does not mean that you are an outgoing, happy person but that you are a sensitive, caring person. You have a sensitive, caring side, but the stresses and the strains of the day could mask it. You might get up and look at your partner with an air of irritation thinking of the hard day ahead, or you might tell your children to hurry up and get ready for school without a pleasant wake-up greeting or hug. Or, you might not acknowledge correctly the act of a co-worker who saves you time and energy with her hard work and effort.

When you let your caring, sensitive, appreciative, and helpful side shine through, it might be expressed in the smallest of acts, such as offering a helpful hand to an older person in need, or a smile to a child who appears glum. When people react to your kindness, they light up, too, and your positive effects on people could become seared in your memories or theirs much more than any major accomplishment or success. Kindness sets up a chain of reactions from one person to the other that might reach around the globe, but a personal achievement stops at your desk, or perhaps your family's. Boasting about yourself cannot beat the feeling of having others complement you for your help and light.

You go through the day undertaking your daily responsibilities, and you might differ from the next person not in the acts undertaken in discharging them but in the attitudes that accompany them. One of you might remain pleasant no matter what the negative circumstances of the day and the other person might remain irritable no matter how positively the day is unfolding. To become the positive person of the two might take a small turn in attitude as the day begins that could lead to a major attitude shift as the day progresses. The little acts of understanding and kindness that you could give partner, child, or co-worker could ignite the light and lead to wanting to get on a daily basis the same positive reaction from people.

Being light in the sense of being kind and giving is its own reward. In addition, light grows and, when it starts shining, you cannot predict how strong it will get and which other person it will shine on. Being light is also the best reward that you can give to another person.

Also, giving light to others can last for generations. All your efforts and competitiveness might leave a permanent mark on society for some of you, but for most of you, but that is rare. Moreover, even for those of you who have more of an effect, usually it is short term. Moreover, what people will remember most are the attitudes and acts of kindness, generosity, and respect that you carry with you and bring into the lives of others.

You might have the lowest paying job but spark a smile in others as you interact with them. Or, you might be the executive in chief but lower the light in other people by your lack of concern and empathy for them.

When it comes to acts of kindness and helping others, the smallest of lights can cast the largest of shadows. The fleeting smile to a stranger might unleash a fleet of good deeds in ways that you could not anticipate. Telling someone how a mistake can be a learning experience and then teaching them how not to make it again can lead to the best attitudes in the people around you. When life becomes a shared kindness and growing experience, it is easier to live and the benefits are incalculable. The smile that you give today might be the smile that reaches the highest heights or leads others to get there, and it could have repercussions that run around the world.

When you approach each moment of the day as the one where an act or attitude of kindness might have long lasting positive effects on yourself and on other people, your light will shine longer and stronger. People will notice and, moreover, the effects generated might last for generations through the chains of people affected over time. Life is ephemeral or transient for all of us, but it could be immemorial and immortal through your positive effects on the world via the kindness and caring that you shine on other people.

How can you improve kindness, caring, sensitivity, generosity, and related motivations? Part of the answer lies within yourself - you have triggers both to turn off the light and turn it on. By exploring what gets in the way of letting the internal light shine, the light might come on easier. Also, if you adopt the goal of being kinder and need help, there are ways of getting it, for example, by reading self-help books or blogs or by communication with family, friends, or mental health professionals.

You could be reading about kindness today because it is the holiday season that encourages it. However, for each and every day people need your acts of kindness. Whether they live around you or live around the world, they will receive benefits from the positive acts and kindness that you might give them. Perhaps begin with a smile and end with an avalanche.

About the Author

Gerald Young, Ph.D.

Gerald Young, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at York University.

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