Thanksgiving lands in October in Canada, where SeeKindness is based, which has got us thinking about gratitude. For us, gratitude is the flip side of kindness. Someone does something kind? You say thanks. More often than not, both the act of kindness and the statement of gratitude are tossed away in the same way we ask someone “how are you?” and they automatically reply “fine.” It’s a mechanical response. We don’t feel a deep connection.
But what if we took the time to connect, even briefly, with the person we are thanking? What if when someone asks how you are, you pause for a moment, look them in the eyes and say “I’m fine, thanks for asking.” You can feel the shift, can’t you?
One of the findings in our SeeKindness user testing is that when we ask people to share a time when they’ve done something kind, they struggle to think of something. And when we ask them to share about a time someone was kind to them, they tell us a story about someone who went out of their way to be helpful or generous or kind. What we think we see here is not that the people we researched are unkind, or don’t experience kindness often, far from it. We think that those smaller acts of kindness we do go by with maybe a quick thanks but they don’t linger in our memory.
A question we ask here a lot is how can we help people to see those smaller acts of kindness? Perhaps to see the small acts of kindness, we have to start with better expressing our gratitude. Like the example above, when someone asks “how are you?” they are extending kindness: taking an interest in your well-being. You may argue that asking “how are you” is just being polite. Just being nice. Maybe. But for most of us, it’s very difficult to ask “how are you” to someone we feel no kindness or warmth toward at all.
One of the goals of SeeKindness is to foster human connection. We think that connection is a result of kindness and gratitude coming together. If we were in a math class, an equation would look something like this:
Kindness + Gratitude = Connection.
Turns out that all three of those variables are important to our feelings of happiness. Happier people tend to be more generous and kind, and kinder more generous people tend to be happier. The same is true for gratitude. In a study where three groups of people were asked to keep either a gratitude journal, a so-called hassle journal, or just a journal about anything, the people who kept the gratitude journal were significantly happier. Plus, expressing gratitude can create a deeper connection between you and others, and research shows that people who have strong social connections are happier.
The path to building stronger social relationships, to seeing the small acts of kindness you do for others and others do for you, is to take time for gratitude. Worst case, you feel happier.