A few weeks ago, while chatting about his day at school, my eight year old told me he was feeling happy because he had spent his day ‘spreading joy’. When I asked him what he meant by that, he told me he had said something nice to a Dad at the school gate, and written something kind about his teacher that had made her smile. In fact, the Dad he had said the ‘something nice’ to (it was a compliment on a recent business achievement), told me later that this encounter with my little boy had made his day. My little boy called himself a ‘walking joy bomb’, and I have to say I agreed he was.
When I asked my son why he liked doing things to make other people happy, his response was, quite simply, because it made other people happy. And for one other reason – because it made him feel good too.
And there it was in a nutshell – the only two reasons we ever really need for being kind. Not because being kind gets us something in return, or makes us look good, but because the simple act of doing something nice makes people happy, and helps us feel good too. At the tender age of eight many children have kindness sorted. And yet as adults, we think it’s our job to tell them how to be.
It all got me to thinking that there is so much we can learn from children. What if we all decided to be ‘walking joy bombs’ for a while, to seek out opportunities for kindness, to send away that awkwardness about giving unexpected compliments, or waving at the passengers on that passing train. Just doing the small things that make other peoples’ days a bit brighter, the simple, unexpected things that make life that little bit more fun.
Smiling and saying hello to strangers when they pass you. Offering to return the shopping trolley for the Mum who has 3 bags of groceries and a toddler on her hands. Telling someone they look nice. Making time to talk to that person you think might be having a hard time. Sending a friend a hand written letter. Checking in on an elderly relative who lives alone.
Giving a little more than people expect of us, whether that be our time, our help, or that extra bit of understanding when someone is going through a difficult time. The straightforward act of adding ‘nice’ to someone’s day – simple thoughts and deeds that make it more likely for kindness to be passed along.
And then there’s my son’s habit of responding with ‘I’m brilliant!’ when people ask him how he’s doing. He heard me talking about this after reading about it in a book lately, as a way of making yourself and others feel good in small and ordinary ways. The book said to watch peoples’ reactions when you give your ‘I’m brilliant!’ answer – I haven’t actually tried this out myself yet, but my experience of watching my son tells me it does indeed seem to be spreading around a bit of joy. Being enthusiastic and positive starts off something of a ripple, in the same way that being around people who love complaining just seems to encourage you to complain. It’s one of the reasons I love spending time with my children. I’m sure their kindness, their compassion and their positivity rub off on me – I’m sure they make me so much better than I am.
So instead of thinking about what I can teach my children, I think for a while I’ll focus on what the world can learn from them. Children teach us to be kinder, to be more tolerant, to be trusting, to forgive, to focus on the here and now. Their latest lesson is how to be a walking joy machine.
Right now, I think that’s a lesson a few of us could use.