It’s World Chocolate Day – any excuse to indulge!

The Hunger for the Topic

When I was designing my FOOD Series, I created some random acts of kindness we could do regularly to benefit ourselves and others.  Perhaps it was serendipitous, but I created the word CHOCOLATES! I love dark chocolate and it an act of kindness to myself is to have two squares of Lindt Chocolate each evening as I relax!

Today is World Chocolate Day and I’m sharing my C.H.O.C.O.L.A.T.E.S with you so that we can all do our bit to make the world a better place.  Science shows that kindness is in our genes which means that we all have the capacity to choose to be kind.  It’s only more recently that research has been able to prove the beneficial impact kindness has on both the giver and the receiver.

In terms of psychological effects, kindness is the opposite of stress.  It decreases blood pressure as well as the stress hormone, Cortisol whilst increasing empathy, self-esteem and improving our moods.  Studies also show that kindness, amongst other benefits is:

  • Essential for healthy, thriving work places;
  • Reduces social anxiety; (Trew & Alden)
  • Improves the well-being of school-aged children; (Layous et al)
  • Makes leaders more respected (Hardy & Van Vugt)

As lockdown restrictions lift, let’s create a new ‘kindness’ contagion.

The Ingredients for Success

  • Pay a genuine compliment to someone. I know we Brits find it difficult to accept them but it does make us feel warm and fuzzy!
  • Help out your neighbours with a task they’re finding difficult
  • As our Café Culture is reappearing, order forward a coffee or a tea the next time you are in a cafe
  • Get If you’re handy in the kitchen you may find cooking is your thing.  Or you may be good with a pair of knitting needles.  Whatever it is, make something personal for someone you know.
  • Optimism provides others with hope of what can be
  • Listen with your full body, involving your eyes and your heart will enable you to hear much more
  • Apologise for something you should have said ‘sorry’ for
  • Treat others like they’d like to be treated
  • Express gratitude for things you appreciate. A thank you makes such a difference
  • Smile – it’s another resource that you can give away with generosity … and genuineness

The methods that blend it together

Compliments are good for our brains.  It’s good for us to hear ‘out loud’ that someone values you.  However, for people to hear a compliment there are probably some key things to remember.

Instead of just telling someone what you like or appreciate, add some detail.  When you tell someone what you experienced as a result of what they did, it makes your compliment more meaningful.  Recognising the process rather than just the result, acknowledges the effort it took.  Whatever you do, make sure you’re authentic in what you say as well as how you say it.  When you compliment someone to butter them up, you’re more transparent than you think!!  And if you’re on the receiving end of a compliment don’t feel that you have to explain yourself.  Think of it as a verbal gift and thank the person!

Providing help to those around us is another act of generosity.  During the pandemic, I’ve heard about people helping their neighbours with home schooling, gardening, picking up prescriptions and shopping to name a few.  Every act of kindness makes a difference.  When we help others, we form greater bonds and relationships.  And did you know that when we’re kind to others, they’re more likely to be kind to other people?  Being kind releases the ‘warm and fuzzy feeling’ hormone called Oxytocin into the brain which makes you want to repeat more acts of kindness.  Research shows that helping someone has a ripple effect as it inspires them to help others.  They call it the power of 3.  For example, if I help one person, they’re likely to find ways to be kind to five other people.  Each of those five people will then pass it onto to five other people!  Isn’t it a lovely thought that we can create a kindness pandemic?!

Ordering forward started off as a very American trend and then as the café culture started to seep through the UK we saw it happening here too.  Whether you buy a coffee, a sandwich or  a travel pass for someone, these acts all take people by surprise and make such a difference.

Get creative!  When we talk about kindness, it’s in thought action and words.  If you know what certain people like, there’s nothing like a homemade gift to show your appreciation of your friendship.  Last year I made mini hampers as Christmas gifts and the feedback was amazing.  I know other people who have made jams or cordials with fruits in season, others who have knitted special little gifts and others who have made cards for every occasion.  A couple of weeks ago, on The One Show, I saw a mum and son make hearts and leave them with a little note for people to find in public places.  Providing that moment of ‘wow’ for someone and seeing the reactions of the benefactors make my heart sing.

Optimism provides others with hope of what can be.  It’s an attitude of mind.   Self-talk and faith that you can do something is an essential part of being optimistic, but we also need to recognise that sometimes things go wrong.  And when this happens, the best way to deal with it is to use the 3Ps.  Remember that:

  1. you’re only personally responsible for part of it.
  2. It’s not permanent – this time will pass and
  3. it’s not pervasive; it won’t impact everything else you’re doing.

When we focus on the things we can do rather than those we can’t, it gets us started on the journey.  I know that I’ve shared the word ‘yet’ with you before, but I really do think it’s an important tool in our optimism tool kit.  When you add yet to the end of ‘I can’t do that’, it provides you with hope that maybe you can’t do it today, but tomorrow or at some stage in the future you will.

I also read something recently that I really liked.  Split your day up into four parts; morning, lunch time, afternoon and evening.  If something goes wrong in the morning, don’t give up on your goal or dwell on what’s happened.  Look and see if you can get it back on track by the afternoon or evening.

Listen with your full body, not just your ears.  Ralph Nichols once said, ‘The greatest need of all humans is to understand and be understood.  The best way to understand people is to listen to them’.  You only really hear what people say when you take away all the other distractions and listen with your eyes, your ears, your heart and your respect for the other person.  When you do this, you will notice the gaps in what you hear and what you feel.  It’s at this point that you will connect with the person in a very different way.  And when you do this, the person talking will know you really do care.  You don’t need to ask searching questions, but sometimes acknowledging that you didn’t realise that someone felt that way, can make all the difference.

We’re often so busy, we don’t take the time to really listen to what others are saying which means that we come away with a less than full understanding of what they said.  Next time you’re going to spend time with someone, give them your full attention and make it about them rather than about you.  Quality time with someone is the greatest gift you can give them.

Apologise!   There are some occasions when apologising is the right thing to do.  It doesn’t mean that you’re wrong and the other person is right. It just means that you value your relationship more than your ego.

We all have plenty of battles to endure in our lives, but sometimes ‘taking one of the team’ means that everyone can get back to the status quo.  When people want to apportion blame it creates more harm and we see ‘us and them’ scenarios building.  Don’t you find, the longer an apology is left unsaid, the deeper the wounds become?  Be brave, make the first move and show the other person you care about your relationship.   However, one word of warning!!  If you are going to apologise, mean it!  An insincere apology, that makes the other person feel even worse is best unsaid!

That leads nicely on to our next ingredient – treat others like they’d like to be treated.  What’s right for one person may be totally different for others, so getting to know people and what makes them tick is important. We might like things in a certain way but others may prefer things done differently.  It’s the diversity in life that brings the richness.  Let’s try and drop the square peg and round hole situations by approaching and engaging with those around us the way they’d like to be approached.  Making someone talk out loud in front of people can be excruciatingly painful.  Perhaps a better way would be to gather their thoughts prior to the meeting so their thoughts and ideas are captured but in a way that suits them.  By treating people in a way they like to be treated enables them to feel as if they belong without having to conform and this allows them to shine with authenticity.

Express gratitude for things you appreciate.  William Arthur Ward said that ‘Feeling gratitude and not expressing it, is like wrapping a present and not giving it!’  If you appreciate what someone has done for you let them know.  And if you can’t tell them face to face, send them a card.  Many years ago when I was studying recognition, I found out that people really appreciated a hand-written note.  It signified the person taking time out of their busy day to recognise what they had done.  One way to make this an easier process is to always have a set of thank you cards in your bag or top drawer.  Try it out and see what a difference it makes.

And here we are at our last ingredient.  Another free resource that we can give away with generosity.  A Smile!  As we age, we smile less.  Isn’t that a shame?  We go from smiling on average 400 times a day as a child to an average of 20 times a day as an adult.  Would you smile more if I said it made you look younger, created more of a positive first impression of you and was universally welcoming to others?  A smile not only creates connections but it also puts others at ease.  People are much more likely to speak to you if you are smiling because you are seen as encouraging and helpful.  We all know that you can also hear a smile.  So, if you are going to ring someone, smile before you dial.  It will change the whole feel of the call.

At the end of the day a smile is the simplest form of communication.  It’s one thing in our diverse cultures that remains the same.  It’s the language of happiness.  Why don’t you give yourself a challenge?  Don’t tell anyone that you’re experimenting but try smiling genuinely at others for the next week and register how it lifts the mood of those around you.

The seasoning to make it your own!

Each of these ingredients work as much for you as they do for others.  If you find your inner talk being a critic rather than a supporter notice it and alter the language.  Listen to what your body is telling you and if you’re feeling tired, get up and have a break.  A walk in the fresh air might just do the trick.  In the same way, have a daily slot at the end of each day for noting down what you’ve been grateful for.  It’s a technique I learned on The Science of Wellbeing course, and it’s been a great way for closing down the day especially if it’s been challenging.  I only write down a couple of words, but I find it can totally alter the outlook I had on a day from one of struggle to one of achievement.

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