According to a Buddhist monk whom scientists have deemed the happiest man on Earth (a claim he feels is an overstatement), the source of much unhappiness in this world is that, “It’s simply that me, me, me all day long is very stuffy. And it’s quite miserable, because you instrumentalize the whole world as a threat.” Instead, Matthieu Ricard advocates benevolence, saying, “If your mind is filled with benevolence, you know, the passion and solidarity … this is a very healthy state of mind that is conducive to flourishing.” These words and this philosophy can change your life, and I would like to share a story of how I have implemented it, and how you can too.
In January, I went through a dramatic and emotionally strenuous breakup. Prior to the breakup, my thinking had shifted inward. I thought only of myself and became resentful of people who did not help me achieve or acquire what I wanted. A few weeks later, me still licking my wounds, my mother offered a suggestion: Shift my energy towards helping others. I often like to think I’m a generous and benevolent person, but upon considering her words, I realized I can do so much more than the occasional favor or charitable donation. I immediately sought out volunteer opportunities, but I also decided I should incorporate good deeds into my day to day life, and as a personal challenge, I resolved to do one substantial belevolent per day for the coming week. Here are the results of that first week:
Sunday: It’s Girl Scout Cookie season. Whenever I visit stores on weekends, I see these enterprising young ladies pitching their cookies to people who either refuse the offer or outright avoid eye contact. While cookies are something I’m trying to cut back on, I know that these cookies help their troops and teach them valuable lessons. So, I bought a box box for my family. So, two-for-one that day?
Monday: My nerdy fashionista best friend helped me a lot through the aforementioned breakup. I recalled a few weeks ago when she joked she wanted “all the BB-8 merchandise!” When adding some money to my GameStop preorder of Pokken, I noticed a scarf with that adorable robotic volleyball. I decided, as a thank you, to buy the scarf for her. She loved it, and later told me she’d received several compliments on it.
Tuesday: I’ve been volunteering with Son-Rise Program for a few weeks now, and it’s becoming a highlight every week. I have been paired with an adorable child who became fixated on my tattoos. I choose that week to wear a tank top, giving him unrestricted access to my bicep ink. That, plus some time playing with his Lego sets and teaching him about fitness, led to some success in communication with him according to his mother.
Wednesday: Projects have been piling up at work lately as the web software company I work for is in the midst of migration to a new platform. One of my co-workers had several deadlines weighing on him for separate projects, so I offered to take one off of his hands. He was able to knock out his highest priority task within the week and was very grateful.
Thursday: Not afraid to say it, I love my grandmother. She’s probably the family member I am closest to, and vice versa. I visit most Thursdays, plus, I knew she’d been having a stressful week anyways. So, on the way to her house, I stopped to buy her some flowers. The look on her face when she saw it was the most heartwarming thing I have seen in a long time.
Friday: Another friend has been inspired by my work-in-progress Cubone costume and expressed his desire to make a gijinka (anthropomorphized personification) costume of the Pokémon Abomasnow. I spent a good chunk of my afternoon corresponding with him to conceptualize a design and map out needed materials. My Cubone and his Abomasnow are going to look so badass together.
Saturday: I play in an Elder Scrolls-themed Dungeons and Dragons campaign with that same friend. The group we play with is a very charismatic and creative crew, so when I felt hungry on the way to the game store, I decided I’d buy a pizza to share with all of them. Minor act, sure, but it got the night off on the right foot.
Yes, most of those actions seem rather minor, but that’s the point: There is no act of kindness too small. You can’t solve homelessness or cure cancer every day, and even the tiniest good deeds send out valuable positivity into this world. Plus, the little bits of happiness add up to make you feel more rewarded and connected to the people in your life. It becomes habit: recognizing small ways to make a positive difference. In the process you begin to notice ways to make a larger difference as well.
This post may sound like tooting my own horn, but the purpose is to present a challenge to you, the reader. For one week, consciously attempt to do at least one good deed every day. Keep track of these deeds in a journal. I can guarantee you will begin to notice a difference in your own mood and happiness just a few days in, if not immediately. Something so small as a genuine, heartfelt compliment to a friend or coworker counts, because even that can lighten up someone’s day. Capacity for compassion will be built, relationships will be strengthened, and perhaps some new ones will be built too.
Try it. Start today. Find the sunshine in yourself, and spread it to others. With so much negativity in this world, we can always use a little more light.