“Real meaning and true happiness come from thinking about other people—and from actions that bring meaning or joy to other peoples’ lives,” says Christine Carter, Ph.D., sociologist and senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and the author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents.
In Carter’s experience, two things happen once you start practicing kindness and compassion. As you begin to do kind things for people, they start reciprocating. And because you’re more conscious of kindness—and more observant—you start noticing acts of kindness everywhere.
1) Try This Compassion Practice
Here’s a simple way to shift your mind toward understanding and compassion. As little as 10 minutes a day can change your outlook.
Sit in a comfortable position that allows you to be alert and relaxed at the same time. Start with 2 minutes to rest the mind on the breath. Bring to mind somebody you care about. Visualize him or her. If you wish, you may use a photograph or video of that person.
Just Like Me
Read the script below slowly to yourself, pausing at the end of each sentence for reflection:
This person has a body and a mind, just like me.
This person has feelings, emotions, and thoughts, just like me.
This person has, at some point in his or her life, been sad, disappointed, angry, hurt, or confused, just like me.
This person has, in his or her life, experienced physical and emotional pain and suffering, just like me.
This person wishes to be free from pain and suffering, just like me.
This person wishes to be healthy and loved, and to have fulfilling relationships, just like me.
This person wishes to be happy, just like me.
Now, let’s allow some wishes to arise:
I wish for this person to have the strength, the resources, and the emotional and social support to navigate the difficulties in life.
I wish for this person to be free from pain and suffering. I wish for this person to be happy.
… Because this person is a fellow human being, just like me.
Now, I wish for everybody I know to be happy.
End with one minute of simple meditation.
2) Practice These Three Kindness Rules
To encourage a kinder world, start at home. Here are a few simple guidelines from Carter to help develop kindness and compassion. She started with her own family.
Find Small Ways To Connect
Carter and her daughters talk at dinner about simple ways to be kinder to others. For example, they decided that every time they walk into an elevator, they would make eye contact with one person, possibly offer a smile and maybe even a few words.
“It’s about making an effort to connect,” Carter says. “Once we had the sense of what kinds of things we can do, we really broadened our ‘giving’ vocabulary. My daughters and I share this sense that every day and in every situation, there are lots of ways to reach out beyond ourselves and do something— however tiny—that is kind.”
Make One Big Gesture
The small things are essential but Carter and family also add some bigger gestures, such as making care packages for the homeless. Every few months, they buy in bulk and fill bags with necessities such as socks, bottles of water, lip balm—whatever the teens think might be of aid to those who are homeless. And Carter says her “moody 13-year-old” also writes notes that are so sweet they make a mother cry. “Just things like, ‘We see you and we care.’ A lot of times they’ll give that, or just a dollar or a friendly hello but the rule is, you don’t just walk by.”
Acknowledge Those Around You
Others notice when you’re not noticing them because you’re preoccupied. “Our rule is to interact with anyone who’s helping us,” Carter says. “Not long after we agreed on this, while I was going through a grocery store checkout, I got a phone call from a doctor I’d been waiting to hear from. I took the call. Afterwards, I told the checkout person and the bag packer I was sorry. ‘I had to take that call but I know it was rude.’ Both of them were visibly moved. They said, ‘Nobody ever says sorry for that. You’re right; it’s rude. It’s like we’re invisible.’ They were touched by the apology and the acknowledgement. After all, it doesn’t feel good to be ignored, particularly while you’re helping somebody.”