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The Most Life-Changing Commitment You Could Ever Make

In just two words.

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Here’s the number-one most important resolution you could make, in a word — well, two: Be kind.

If you think about it, kindness is everything. Love, of course, can be everything, too. But unlike love, which is something that strikes or that we grow or fall into, kindness is something that we choose. Unlike love, kindness can be practiced. We can practice kindness even when we feel decidedly unloving.

Acts of kindness are hardest to practice with those difficult people in our lives who evoke our anger, frustration, disappointment, or the whole range of other painful emotions that make us human. Yet it’s with them that kindness is most essential, because these individuals are likely to be our parents, in-laws, relatives, partners, children, and close friends.

It is in our most important and enduring relationships that we are least likely to be our best selves: Many of us treat our dry cleaner with greater kindness than we treat our partner or family members.

Kindness is what the world needs more of. It is not optional, not an “extra.” It's a human necessity. Plus, it’s good for us. Meditation practices focusing on lovingkindness have been shown to deliver a wealth of positive effects, from health benefits like better control of blood glucose and less inflammation, to an increase in social connectedness. Kindness changes the structure of your brain.

Two centuries ago, novelist Henry James said, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” Today, there is less kindness in public life than at any other period in my lifetime, which trickles down and invites other people to be less kind in their personal lives. Never in my lifetime has the subject of kindness carried such weight.

“Be kind” is the most important New Year’s resolution that any of us can make. In almost every interaction we have, we can either diminish or enhance another person. The practice of kindness includes being kind and compassionate to yourself as well.

Kindness is not some kind of sentimental pap requiring us to please and placate others, to hold relationships in place as if our lives depended on it, or to accommodate to unfair circumstances. Life requires us to take difficult actions, to speak difficult words, and to confront injustice and unfairness where we see it.

But this is what I know to be true: Everything that can be said can be said with kindness. Every tough position we have to take can be taken with kindness. No exceptions.