February is my birthday month - and very soon I will be 44 years old.
In my house, I celebrate birthdays that end in a zero, a five or are a double number - unless you happen to be one of my children, in which case EVERY birthday is celebrated, because I am still in awe of your existence.
This birthday brings, along with an exceeding awareness of being middle aged, a growing anxiety that there is more I SHOULD be doing and a new fascination with radical acceptance...I'll come back to this in another blog post, as my thoughts on this have not settled onto anything tangible.
For now, I want to share a story...
A few years ago, while out running (no surprises there) early in the morning, I spotted two chaps sleeping in the garden of a church, on my way back they were waking and I called out an obnoxiously cheery 'good morning'. We had a quick chat about the weather, it was actually a really nice morning, and then the taller of the two men startled and asked me what the date was. I answered - I don't remember now what it was - but it was his birthday.
I ran home as fast as I could, showered in record time and dressed for work. I found a spare birthday card, some cash (which is not something I'd be able to do these days, relying mostly on electronic transactions), scribbled as nice a message as I could for someone I had met less than an hour ago, jumped into my car and drove back to the church.
I was worried that the chaps would have moved on, but luckily they were still pottering around, and another man had joined them. As I approached the group, they looked wary. I had changed from a scruffy, sweaty runner to a scruffy, professional in heels.
Once I had reintroduced myself, and explained why I was back, they offered me a seat on the cleaner part of the paving...but I had thought we should all have breakfast together. So we did. A birthday breakfast of their choosing and quite possibly the MOST interesting discussion about literature / writing and authors I have ever had the pleasure to participate in. These men were passionate and avid readers, with strong opinions about plot verses character based narratives, and which books every person should read before they discuss politics, religion or any of the 'isms' - as they put it.
Time was ticking away, and I was due to start work soon so I started my goodbyes - one of the chaps, reached into his deep pockets and handed me a pedometer stating he found it a few weeks back but wanted me to have it.
...and that was that! I never saw any of these men again. If they were still sleeping rough around the area, they must have found hiding places.
Over the following year I read every one of the books we talked about - at least the ones I hadn't already - and I think about that birthday breakfast and the robust discussion on reading and books often, without doubt I gained more from that interaction than the men did.
There is science to back that statement up...
There are obvious community and social benefits to treating others as you would like to be treated but there are also health benefits:
-Kindness releases feel good hormones ... by boosting serotonin
-Kindness eases anxiety ... and leads to an increase in relationship satisfaction
-Kindness is good for your heart ... by strengthening it
-Kindness can help you live longer ... by reducing loneliness
-Kindness reduces stress ... through affiliative behaviour
-Kindness prevents illness ... by reducing inflammation
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation - with a fab website here:
also states that kindness is contagious.
'The positive effects of kindness are experienced in the brain of everyone who witnessed the act, improving their mood and making them significantly more likely to “pay it forward.” This means one good deed in a crowded area can create a domino effect and improve the day of dozens of people'
...sounds amazing right !
If you're not sure where to start - Mental Health Org in the UK has some great listings / suggestions...(y'all know this stuff already but sometimes a list can be a little helping hand, a nudge even)
At home and in your community :
Call a friend who you haven’t spoken to for a while
Post a card or letter to someone you are out of touch with
Send flowers to a friend, out of the blue
Find out if a neighbour needs any help with shopping
Ring someone who is on their own, or video call them
Send someone a handwritten thank you note
Tell your family how much you love and appreciate them
Help with household chores
Offer to help an elderly or vulnerable neighbour
Check on someone you know who is going through a tough time
At work :
Remember to say hi to colleagues and ask how they are – whether that’s face-to-face, or virtually if you are working from home
Offer to support colleagues who may not be familiar with videoconferencing or new software that you have already used
Set up a virtual coffee/lunch club – with your regular colleagues and with new ones
Have a conversation with a colleague you don’t normally talk to
Get to know a new member of staff – it is hard to join a new workplace under these restrictions
Lend your ear – listen to your colleague who is having a bad day
Say thank you to a colleague who has helped you
Praise a colleague for something they have done well
In public places:
Follow the rules on social isolation – but don’t make negative assumptions about others
Wish a passer-by a good morning or afternoon from an appropriate distance (2 metres or more)
Be a considerate cyclist/driver
Pick up some rubbish lying around in the street
Smile and say hello to people you may pass every day, but have never spoken to before from an appropriate distance (2 metres or more)
Volunteer for a local community organisation
Offer your expertise and support as a mentor for those who are struggling
Check in safely with a neighbour who is isolated or shielding
See if there’s anything you can do to support your children’s school or nursery – offer to read stories by video for example
Involve your friends and neighbours in community projects
You could start up an online book club or film club
Offer to skill-share with a friend via video call - you could teach guitar, dance or a new recipe.
Tell a family member how much you love and appreciate them
Plan a fundraising event in your local community or at work once it’s safe – why not try our Tea & Talk event, or a virtual challenge during coronavirus restrictions?
Raise money by taking part in a fun active challenge, such as a 5k run or walk in fancy dress, or maybe a themed sports day. Again, this might need to be online for a while, due to coronavirus