I am taking the Science of Well-Being course through Coursera and Yale (free! highly recommend!), and a valuable reminder it offers is that doing things for others significantly increases happiness. For the first time, we’re forced to think about how to practice this at a distance. Here are 7 practices to increase your happiness by being kind to others from a distance:
- Send snail mail. It’s easy and cheap. You don’t need fancy stationery; in fact, my favorite quarantine letter I received was from a friend on printer paper and sticky notes in a #10 envelope. I’ve been sending many on postcards I’ve gathered through past travels and shared memories from those places. Your letter can be short just to say hi; it can be emotional and deep; it can be jumpy with fragments of information that you might not otherwise share (“Today I saw a person walking backwards down my block like it was completely normal.”) It can pose questions; it can acknowledge something in your friend’s life; it can lament not being in more frequent touch. You can decorate with original art and stickers and colorful markers and washi tape, or keep it as simple as pen on paper. You can even use fun vintage stamps.
- Let people know you’re thinking of them. A text message, phone call, or comment on social media can go a long way. Especially now, we can tell a lot about how people are experiencing the world based on what they publicly share…and what they don’t. If someone is expressing how hard things are, share an empathetic thought. “I see you; I’m sorry; you are loved.” If you haven’t heard from someone in awhile, it’s great to send a funny or cute gif. For friends working on the front lines, and those who always seem high performing, they need extra love and kindness right now. Thank them for their work, their energy, their advocacy.
- Post a message on your window. I’ve seen so many terrific messages in neighbors’ windows, from “Thank you helpers” to “You look like a million bucks today, even with the mask on!” People are looking around and taking notice, and this is such an easy thing to do. Also, look into local neighborhood window games specifically for kids, like the widely-adopted teddy bear scavenger hunt and participate when you can.
- Convene a virtual celebration. Graduations, birthdays, (cancelled) weddings, babies, awards…there’s a lot to celebrate. Cards and texts are nice, but real moments should feel like real moments. Whether you send out a paperless post for a zoom party or ask people to all sign a kudoboard, going the extra mile underscores special moments. Equally importantly, this may include celebrations of life when people pass away; grieving is so often done around people, and is particularly hard right now. Ask people how they might like help with group gatherings to grieve and celebrate life together. A note about all of this: when you have more than a few people together on a virtual call, you need to facilitate the time so that people have opportunities to speak and a clear idea of what is going to happen. For a friend’s birthday party for example, I asked attendees ahead of time for a song recommendation, and then shared this agenda: “Hellos and how you know know Sarah, roasts or toasts from whoever would like, she’ll light her own candles and we’ll all sing, we’ll have a dance party to our medley, then there will be a game.” It helps people know what to expect and respect your role as someone who will keep things moving.
- Volunteer. There is so much work that can be done right now. You can look for opportunities to help your neighbors via NextDoor or posting signs, sign up with a nonprofit via sites like VolunteerMatch or Catchafire, donate plasma, look for specialized calls for vulunteers based on your expertise, or even just reach out to your own network to see who needs help. There’s a ton to do. I helped one nonprofit recraft their communications to tell stories about how its programs are still strong despite the shifting context.
- Offer to watch kids. Those of us without kids or other caretaking responsibilities have plenty of our own challenges, but we do have the luxury of occassional “me” time. If you’re in a neighborhood with yards, offer to watch the neighbor’s kids in the next yard. If you’re states away from friends with kids old enough to chat on the phone, offer to spend some time with them hanging out so your friend can drink her tea in peace. And, depending on you and your family’s comfort level, offering in-person babysitting, especially for kids of essential workers, is an incredible gift.
- Tip and treat to coffee/wine. When you order food out, tip better than you ever would. If you’re ordering packages regularly, consider tipping your delivery person. If you’re a fan of the USPS like I am, leave a tip for your delivery person. (How? Just put it in an envelope and tape it outside before they usually arrive.) Similarly, Venmo a friend out of the blue to get themself a bottle of wine on you because you. Or pay for the next person’s coffee at the curbside coffeeshop. (They won’t even hear you do it when they’re six feet away!)
There’s a lot to feel anxious, stressed, mad, and scared about in this world always, and especially right now. But, you can feel all of those things and hold in the same moment some happiness. That happiness, at least for me, refuels me to gear up for the long road ahead.
How else are you being kind to others to increase happiness?