A friend of mine once told me that, whenever she’s struggling through a bad day or something difficult, she makes extra effort to be kind to others.
In fact, she said that she’ll go out of her way to perform small acts of kindness on her hardest days.
To be honest, when I heard this, my immediate response was cynical. How can anyone be expected to be especially thoughtful, considerate, or giving on a really bad day?
When I reflected on my friend’s words later, I realized that my cynicism was in fact a mask for guilt and envy.
Guilt because my own bad days seem to flatten me sometimes, to the point where I feel as though I have nothing left to give anyone.
Envy because I wish I weren’t like that. I wish I were somebody who responded to my own suffering with kindness toward others.
In spite of my initial resistance, I decided to give my friend’s method a try this past week.
Faced with some struggle, I went out of my way to be especially kind, and even to do small things that expressed goodwill.
I smiled to strangers and asked them how their day was going.
I checked in with a friend who’s been having a hard time and told her she was on my mind.
I let me best friend know that I love her.
In a few situations when I might usually become irritable, I made a point of practicing patience and calm.
Most of all, I gave everyone—everyone, including me—the benefit of the doubt.
Turns out, my friend was right. It feels so much better to be generous and soft when life is hard than it does to be hard along with it.
As someone who has had depression, I understand completely that there are times when things are actually so hard that special levels of kindness just aren’t possible.
When it comes to more regular challenges, however—like bad days, periods of stress, or melancholy—I do think it’s possible to respond by putting more kindness into the world. Or at aiming to do so.
I remember learning that The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali state that a person should respond to negative thoughts by consciously cultivating positive thoughts.
The practice is known as Pratipaksha bhavana. It’s cultivation of an opposite—opposite thought or opposite action.
The point is that it’s not enough to simply endure negative thinking and wait for it to go away. Our response needs to be active, rather than passive.
More and more, I see how helpful this is for me. There are times when the best I can do is to ride the waves of negative thoughts or feelings, waiting for things to change.
But whenever I can and do choose positive thoughts actively—hopeful thoughts, forgiving thoughts, generous thoughts—I feel so much better.
My friend’s point was that we can take this a step further. We can respond to negativity not only with positive thoughts, but with positive action.
In this context, kind actions are almost a form of resistance. If circumstances feel unkind, unforgiving, or unfair, why not take action in the opposite direction? We may only be able to do this within the little orbits of our lives, but so what? That’s how any change begins.
Sort of relatedly, I’ve been reflecting a lot on how good it feels to be sharing recipes a bit more regularly than I was this past spring and summer.
Mostly, I get excited when I write about food. But I also realize that sharing vegan recipes has always been the way in which I try to do something meaningful and positive with my life.
Last fall and spring, I felt that I was being of service as a dietitian with my clients. It was and still is an honor to support and connect in that direct way.
Yet I lost touch with my writing and food creation, which is also really important to me. When I first started this blog, I felt sincerely that I could inspire people be more kind to themselves and to animals with their food choices.
I wonder whether I’ve lost sight of that sense of purpose a little in the past couple years. If so, I’d really like to connect with it again.
I’ll be giving a little more thought to ways in which I can be of greater service in the week ahead. In the meantime, I’ll be sharing more smiles with strangers.
Have a restful Sunday evening, friends.
I’m going to keep my intro short and sweet today, because NEDA week kicks off tomorrow, and I’ll be sharing a lot more throughout the course of the week. Longtime readers know that I always greet NEDA week as an opportunity to celebrate the recovery process and send my support out to those who are struggling with food and body image. I don’t demarcate my recovery story with start and end dates, because it’s an ongoing journey that unfolds in new dimensions all…
So happy that the “12 finds” idea appeals to you guys — I’ll certainly be making it a regular feature from now on. Thanks for your comments! And here we are, just in time for some weekend reading. To start with, Laura–who writes the marvelous blog The First Mess–has created a vegan fennel and mushroom pate for Food52. What?! Sign me up immediately. Meanwhile, Emma, who writes the adorably titled My Darling Lemon Thyme, has a roasted cauliflower, chickpea, and quinoa salad with…
Some of you may have seen a story, which is now making the rounds, about the response that one employee got from her CEO when she let her coworkers know that she was taking a mental health day off. Software developer Madalyn Parker sent out an email to coworkers that read, “Hey team, I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100 [per cent].” Her CEO took the time to thank…
I’m drafting this post from a room that’s only a few blocks away from where my old apartment used to be in Washington, D.C.. I’m down here because my cousin’s twin babies were baptized over the weekend, and my mom and I made the trip to celebrate them. It’s a short trip, only two nights. My hope was to come down earlier and spend time catching up with my friends here, but with all of the recent feeling unwell, I wanted to spend…