There are many wonderful ways to express love that will make people much happier than receiving another material possession. Two particularly potent approaches involve showing kindness to others and – on the flip side – being extraordinarily appreciative to people who have been good to you.
Committing acts of kindness can make you feel as terrific as it does the people who benefit from your good deeds. Indeed, doing nice things for others makes you feel generous and compassionate, providing counterbalance to the many distressing parts of life. When we’re focusing on finding nice things to do for others, we’re forced to shift our attention to something other than the unhappiness that we see every day.
Devoting one day a week to performing 5 acts of kindness has been shown to promote an increase in confidence, meaningfulness, and optimism. But to get that boost in well-being, all 5 actions must be done on the same day. Otherwise, performing one or two small gestures will get lost in all of the other routine activities of your daily life.
Doing good deeds for others starts a chain-reaction of positive consequences within your social circle. Helping someone will result in their caring about you even more, and their expression of gratitude will warm your heart. It will also inspire them to be more generous in how much they do for others. Helping others creates a cascade of positive connections that satisfies our primal human need for loving and being loved.
To give the gift of kindness, choose what acts you intend to do, when you will do them, and how much of your time and energy you’ll put into the activity. Intention is the best predictor of future behavior because it creates consciousness about how you choose to live your life. But only if your intention is clearly formulated in your mind in the form of a video vision in which you’re picturing yourself performing the good deed.
The next step is to consider what obstacles within you might hold you back from acting at the appointed time. Will your inner critic say it’s silly? Will you be concerned about what response you’ll receive? After identifying potential blocks, create ‘if-then’ plans for overcoming those obstacles. “If I’m unsure how someone will react to my kindness, then I’ll tell myself that I’m not going to let that person define who I am.”
These dress rehearsals in which you envision yourself committing acts of kindness also allows you to figure out how to do something special enough that it stands out from the nice things that you routinely do for someone, but not such a huge burden that you feel overwhelmed by the commitment.
Pay attention to what someone you care about seems to need. Find something different to do for them that will make it clear that you have carefully considered what’s important to them. For example, if a friend has children or an ailing parent, volunteer to take care of their loved ones so that they can have a much needed break.
Giving the gift of compassion will mean more to a friend or family member who’s encountering difficulties than anything you could purchase. Surprise someone you’re concerned about with a phone call to check up on how they’re doing. Or tell them you want to go to lunch to find out what’s going on in their world. Showing sympathy for the struggles that they are encountering will signal just how much you care about them.
For the people who are most important to you, give the gift of gratitude. Because people cherish them forever, a gratitude letter is the gift that keeps on giving. Writing a letter in which you find the words that express your most heartfelt appreciation is an incredible act of love.
When you share with someone how they’ve made your life better because they’re in it, you help that individual experience the highest level of happiness – knowing their life has meaning. When you tell someone who loves you how their strength of character has brought out the best in you, they’ll know that the sacrifices they’ve made on your behalf were well worth it.
It’s fantastic to read a gratitude letter aloud to special people because you can both feel the love flowing from your heart.
The holidays are about love, not money. How much you spend on presents is not a reflection of how much you love someone. This year you can create new holiday traditions to demonstrate love to your family and friends.