Four Things to Create a Quarantine of Kindness

Tips for a better experience during a stay-at-home order.

Posted Mar 28, 2020

Notebook photo by Gianni Testore / FreeImages
Source: Notebook photo by Gianni Testore / FreeImages

A number of years ago, I wrote a guided journal titled, A Year of Kindness. The journal prompts people to write each day for a year about gratitude and kind things they do for others. 

This practice is particularly useful right now. Writing about gratitude and kindness helps to free ourselves from feelings of isolation and can increase our happiness while we engage in extreme physical distancing.

You don't need the guided journal to do it — all you need is a notebook. Below is an expanded version of the directions. 

1. Journal about Gratitude

Each morning, write down three things for which you are grateful.

At a time when many people are suffering, it can appear unseemly to write lists of things for which we are grateful. But gratitude is about more than just what we have. We can also be grateful for what others do for us and what we can do for others. Writing about the things for which we are grateful focuses our attention on those things. So write with as much detail as you like.

2. Journal about Kindness

Each night, write about at least one kind thing you did for someone else.

Reach out to people who are alone. Get groceries for neighbors when getting your own. Host and attend online gatherings. Tell people what they're doing well. Express your appreciation. Do something unexpected for someone in your home. And then journal about it. If at first you can't remember doing anything kind, don't worry. You probably did something and just can't remember. Once you start to focus on it, you'll start to remember.

3. Put the Two Together

As long as it appears safe to deliver letters, each week (or more frequently if you can), write and send a gratitude note.

Mail a gratitude letter to a teacher who meant a lot to you. Send a note of appreciation to a friend you’ve been thinking about. Hand a note to your spouse, your child, or someone else you live with and tell them something you love about them. Leave a note in your mailbox for your mail carrier. Hand a note to the grocery store clerk when you go shopping. Deliver a note to the pharmacist the next time you need medication. Send a note to your doctor — or the doctors at your local hospital, who may be stretched thin soon, if they aren't already. 

4. Allow Your Feelings

Throughout this difficult time, being kind to others is essential. Be kind to yourself, too. Some emotions are uncomfortable. But all your feelings are allowed.

If you are fortunate enough to have a job and a home, or if you are living with parents who do, it can be easy to think you have no right to feel upset right now when so many others are unemployed. If you have lost your job, you might feel angry or hopeless. But while no one should take out their anger or unhappiness on others, the feelings themselves are just feelings. Regardless of your situation, it's okay to have whatever feelings you have. 

It’s also helpful to recognize that your feelings aren’t who you are. The way we typically speak about feelings can make this hard to grasp. In English, instead of saying “I have angry feelings” or even “I feel angry,” we typically say “I am angry.” Without our conscious awareness, this frames our feelings in such a way that it could encourage us to experience them as all-encompassing, and in a moment of powerful emotions, to conflate who we are with how we feel.

But feelings, like thoughts, are just things that happen. When you recognize that you have feelings, your feelings no longer have you. You can notice them, thank them, and go about your day. ♦

If you are having thoughts of suicide or about harming yourself or others, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255. If you are a victim of domestic abuse and are quarantined with your abuser, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224 or go to www.thehotline.org. (Clicking the “X” or “Escape” button closes the window but does not clear your history in all browsers.)

Pamela Paresky is a visiting lecturer at the University of Chicago where she teaches “Habits of a Free Mind: Psychology for Democracy.” She served as primary researcher and in-house editor for the New York Times bestseller, The Coddling of the American Mind. Dr. Paresky's opinions are her own and should not be considered official positions of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education or any other organization with which she is affiliated. Follow her on Twitter @PamelaParesky