This May Be the Key to Happier, Healthier Lives
Christian authors and other experts are trying to kickstart a 'revolution of kindness' across the country
John Fuller recently made a month-long effort to never utter a negative word to or about his wife, a busy mom he sometimes took for granted.
For a similar period, Katie Phillips found something positive to say about her seven-year-old son, with whom she had a “prickly relationship.”
And Christine King performed acts of kindness for an irritating co-worker.
Kindness — a virtue embraced by both the religious and the nonreligious — requires intentional behavior and can have beneficial results for both the giver and recipient of a benevolent act, experts say.
But don't we know that already? Aren't most of us already kind?
We'd like to think so, said Phillips, an Atlanta-area mother of five, who took a "30-Day Kindness Challenge" earlier this year.
"But then you actually stop and think, 'OK, what am I actively doing to please my child?'" said the woman who leads an adoption ministry at her church. "'How can I find little ways to make them happy, make their day, let them know I'm thinking about them?'" she added. "You're really humbled because you think, 'Oh my gosh, I don't do this nearly as often as I thought I did.'"
In recent months, Christian authors — as well as Parade magazine — have highlighted step-by-step processes to help readers learn how to be kind. Though organizations like the World Kindness Movement and the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation have encouraged altruism since the 1990s, more recent studies by scientists back up its benefits.
"People are longing for kindness," said relationship researcher Shaunti Feldhahn, author of "The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship."
"Everybody likes living with a kind home, with a kind church, with a kind school and with kind neighbors."
So she created daily goals for how to treat a friend, loved one or colleague: Say nothing negative, say something affirming and be generous to them in some small way. Feldhahn found that 89 percent of relationships improved when people took those steps for a month.
"They had trained themselves in purposeful kindness," she said.
Convoy of Hope President Hal Donaldson has similar goals for a "revolution of kindness," but for strangers as well as acquaintances.
"Hatred has just seized the headlines, and anger is marching through the streets of our nation," said Donaldson, author of "Your Next 24 Hours: One Day of Kindness Can Change Everything."
"If we're going to stem the tide of hatred and conflict, it's not going to be through more hatred and conflict. It's going to be through kindness."
Donaldson knows about the benefits of kindness firsthand. His father was killed and his mother was seriously injured when they were hit by a drunken driver when he was 12. A family of four took in his family of six, sharing a single-wide trailer while their mother recovered. He and his brothers went on to found a Christian charity that mobilizes volunteers to help the poor.
But he has also worked on his own level of kindness — first for 24 hours and then trying to make it a way of life — from "being kind to a waiter to opening a door to jotting a note to a friend who I knew was going through a tough time."
He made that plan after reading Proverbs 21:21: "Whoever goes hunting for what is right and kind finds life itself."
Donaldson's organization has distributed more than 20,000 copies of his book to churches, including The Chapel, a suburban evangelical megachurch in Chicago that focused on its lessons for three weekends starting on Easter Sunday. (go to page 2 to continue reading)