New Year, New Point of View

Every year, once the buzz of holiday preparations has died down and the hangover creeps in, the inevitable reflections about the previous twelve months begin.  We start weighing up our choices and decisions, like Santa evaluating naughty children.  The inevitable overindulgence of the festive season doesn’t help.  We berate ourselves about one too many mince pies and several too many drinks.  Next year, we vow to ourselves, we will do better.

January is a difficult month.  For those in the northern hemisphere it is often cold and grey, without the parties and the lights of the holiday season to lift the mood.  And, strangely, I think that the New Year’s resolutions we often take on make it even harder.  The reason is this – at the beginning of the month we sit ourselves down and set some rather grand plans for the year ahead.  This year, we say, we will have a green juice every morning at least.  We will always eat our vegetables.  The gym will start to know us better than our own sofa.  And not only that!  We will forgo plastic entirely, buy no new clothes whatsoever, meditate twice a day, call our parents and relatives constantly, be kind, thoughtful and generally exemplary human beings in every conceivable way.

Does this sound familiar?  Digging up any old New Year’s resolutions lists later in the year has always made me smile to myself.  But here is the thing.  January is tricky enough without all of the added pressure we pile on.  By the end of the month, I have often had to cross most of the things off my list, which sometimes makes me feel dejected, but often leads to a rather cavalier attitude to the rest of the list, which soon lies at the bottom of some drawer, entirely forgotten.

I think there are two reasons my resolutions don’t usually work out. The first is that they are simply too vague.  ‘Be healthier’ I write, but with no concrete plan on how to do it.  The second reason is that they phrased in a way that makes them feel overly ambitious and so it’s too easy to just shrug my shoulders and think, ‘Well, it did seem it a bit over the top.’  So this year I’m approaching my resolutions from a totally new angle and it’s this – my New Year’s resolution is simply to do one act of kindness each day.

The thing we can often lose sight of in the modern world is how much our choices impact on people around us.  But our choices really do matter.  And the way we behave towards others matters.  Consider how you feel when someone says something horrible to you, or pushes angrily past you to get on the tube in the morning.  Most likely this will put you in a bad mood.  You probably won’t smile at the person who makes you your coffee, and you might snap at someone at work or your partner when you get home in the evening.  But the opposite is also true.  Being kind creates a ripple effect of kindness in the world.   And not only that, I believe that being kind means its more likely that we will do all of the other things we would usually put on our New Year’s Resolutions list.

Here is why – researchers at the University of Sussex  recently found that being kind or generous activated parts of the brain associated with reward, and that this was even more so than when we did kind deeds from our own self-interest (expecting something in return).  The ‘ warm glow of kindness’ then makes us feel better about ourselves.  Another study found that experiencing feelings of gratitude – from performing acts of kindness – eased depression in the subjects and made them feel happier.   When we feel good about ourselves, we are more likely to treat ourselves with kindness.  And that includes doing things like drinking less, eating healthily, or doing exercise.

So that is why this January I am making the resolution to do one small act of kindness each day.  It can be as simple as smiling at a stranger, or as big as helping a friend move house.   I believe it will not only make me feel happier and more positive but also make the people I come into contact with happier and more positive.  Why don’t you join me in beginning 2019 bright?