It’s likely a safe assumption that most people would like to be considered kind. It is one of those adjectives that warms the heart and endears others to us. However, how do you really apply this virtue to your day-to-day life?
Stephanie Dowrick attempts to answer this question in her book, Everyday Kindness: Shortcuts to a Happier and More Confident Life.
Dowrick organized the book into eight sections: Kindness, Personal Power, Self-Confidence, Relationships, Identity, Children and their Parents, Moods, and Work. Composed of short chapters — average length is about three pages — she elaborates extensively on how kindness can affect and change these aspects of our lives. In her introduction, Dowrick claims “kindness is the quality that brings appreciation—and consideration—to life.” Bearing this in mind, she says that taking kindness as a privilege and a responsibility would create a “safer, friendlier and far more appreciative world.” It is through this work that Dowrick attempts to encourage others to join in her endeavor to the more peaceful world that she describes.
Dowrick’s writing is eloquent and her thoughts on kindness run deep. Rather than commanding a list of “kind” things to do, she has a specific topic that she focuses on in each section. For instance, in the Relationships section, she emphasizes the following:
- Relating, not working, is important in relationships (“Don’t Work At It!”)
- Romance is important in a marriage (“Long Live Romance”)
- Power needs to be shared within the home (“Housework, Sex and Power”)
She does resort to lists in a few chapters; however, she takes time to elaborate on each list item so that the reader is clear on its meaning. Her list of insights as a parent is focused on how to raise a calm, happy child. One of the list items, “Talk Less,” explains that keeping explanations short is better for parents and for children. Dowrick says, “Children can quickly feel overloaded or invaded by too much talk, especially when it’s top-heavy with opinions and instructions.”
The two sections that resonated most with me were “Personal Power” and “Self-Confidence.” When I think of acting kindly, my first thought is not about being kind to myself; rather, I think immediately of ways to be kind to others. However, as Dowrick points out, being kind to ourselves is necessary so that we can better care for ourselves. When we care for ourselves, we are better equipped to care for others.
“Personal Power” is devoted to explaining the power that each person holds and the multitude of ways that it can be expressed. Dowrick discusses the importance of choosing — specifically, choosing happiness. Making choices is an act of self-determination. Continually making choices, whether right or wrong, plays a strong role in our sense of self. She goes on to explain how even when struck with a great loss, the choice is still there to make: continue to be grief-stricken or begin a road to recovery? “It takes courage to speak up frankly about our toughest losses. It takes more courage still to accept care from others, especially when that’s often clumsy and inadequate.”
This choice, and others that may not be quite as difficult, will directly affect a person’s state of happiness. It is up to them to choose kindness and follow the path they have chosen.
The section on self-confidence focused on the importance of being kind to ourselves. How do we act kindly to ourselves? For starters, we can speak up for ourselves when we disagree with a situation or a person. Standing up for what you believe in will boost your self-confidence.
Physically taking care of yourself is another way to be kind to yourself. Dowrick provides a list of healthy habits to help that along. She includes items like “eat slowly,” “take more steps,” and “eat when you are hungry.” While these seem common-sensical, some struggle with them daily.
Dowrick notes that food is not a substitute for positive emotions such as self-acceptance, trust and kindness. She rounds out the section with a discussion on our daily assumptions about ourselves and others. She points out that we extrapolate our own body or self issues onto others and believe that they think negative things about us. By creating this negative thought in our own mind, we come to believe it is real. We must be aware of what we are attributing to others and what actually belongs in our thoughts.
As much as I enjoyed reading this book, I would warn those interested in reading it to consider it more as a meditation. Read a chapter a day; savor it mindfully. Dowrick has many points to make and many thoughts to share.
Everyday Kindness: Shortcuts to a Happier and More Confident Life
By Stephanie Dowrick, PhD
Tarcher: September 13, 2012
Paperback, 384 pages