Two weeks ago, I experienced a very bad Monday. I had my purse stolen on my lunch break, which led to a panic attack (in public and the office, no less). This was followed by the onset of a migraine and sickness, which in turn triggered my ongoing flare up. Ironically, I’d told myself on my walk to work that morning that it was going to be a great week. A couple of days later, still slightly in the grip of a migraine hangover, I went for a walk by the river.
I’m in the habit of smiling and saying hello to other people walking along the Thames path – usually families and rambling retired couples. As I neared Port Meadow, I saw a woman with a pushchair leaning down by the riverbank. She stood up and we exchanged smiles. As I was passing her, she stopped me, handed me a four-leaf clover and wished me good luck. It was exactly what I needed in that moment.
This sweet Other-Care To Do List also got me thinking about the impact of everyday kindnesses. We shouldn’t underestimate the potential of small gestures extended to strangers, friends or other loved ones. Here are some ideas:
1. Smile and say hello. Simple but effective.
2. Say thank you. Everyone likes to feel appreciated.
3. Ask how someone’s day was or is going. My follow up question to my housemates or family after this is usually ‘And what was good about your day?’.
4. Actively listen to their answer. Listening is key to all relationships, particularly when you want to learn more about someone or support them through a difficult time. Active listening is more than nodding, saying ‘mmm’ and looking like you care what someone has to say. You need to pay attention and use open questions to let them share their thoughts – my friends at Student Minds are pros at it. You can find tips here.
5. Write thank you notes – preferably by hand, but email will do. I try to send them often and like to keep cards from teams I’ve worked with and people I love on display. When I don’t feel well, they act as helpful reminders that I’m capable of a lot. I’ve also kept a post-it note from one of my housemates that says ‘Thank you for looking after us all. (Sorry it’s not egg shaped.)’ – it was attached to some Nakd bars that were an Easter present because Laura is that thoughtful.
6. Find meaningful birthday cards and send them in plenty of time. A text (even with well-chosen emojis) isn’t quite the same, but acts as a good back-up for days when Paperchase is closed and you’ve run out of stamps.
7. Send postcards. My friend Catherine and I have been pen pals since I interned with Student Hubs in Oxford two years ago. I still have her first postcard (a seaside scene) on my pinboard and it makes me smile when I’m doing life admin at my desk. That reminds me, it’s my turn to send something.
8. Basically, send anything in the post. Most people love receiving letters that aren’t from the Student Loans Company or their bank.
9. Let people know about songs, articles or books you think they might like. I enjoy doing this, especially when I find something I love and share it with someone who appreciates it just as much.
10. Give compliments and positive feedback. If you love what they’re wearing or they were great in a meeting, let them know.
11. More specifically, tell someone what you admire about them – whether they’re a productivity ninja, good at pushing themselves out of their comfort zone, brilliant at bringing people together or skilled at making cakes that Mary Berry would be proud of.
12. Lend a hand. I’m lucky to be on the receiving end of this when my symptoms flare up. If I can’t walk far or I’m in bed with a headache, my housemates offer to buy food or finish chores I can’t manage. My Mum also helps me to arrange doctors appointments and blood tests back at home. I’m forever grateful and repay the favour when I can.
13. If you see a lost / abandoned purse, phone or other important item, hand it in to the police. Thank you so much to whoever found my purse on the other side of the city centre after it was stolen and did this. You deserve all the good karma.
Do you have any other favourite ways of showing kindness?