The Struggle of Staying Kind
The hedonic treadmill might feel more like a hamster wheel at times, but kindness and positivity go a long way.
This is the kind of thing you never want to think about. You never want to take that good, hard look at yourself and ask if you’re becoming an unkind person.
It’s a question that’s been asked before; how do you stay kind in a cruel world?
The answer for each person is different, but there are little things that you can force to run through your mind that can help you stay kind. There are ways to look at yourself and look at your actions and make sure they’re still courteous.
Kindness and positivity walk hand in hand; after all, you almost have to possess a positive mindset to be consistently kind.
A few years ago, a group of researchers at the University of Carolina dug into the research behind how positive emotions impact a person’s psychological well being.
“A paradox surrounds positive emotions. On one hand, they are fleeting: Like any emotional state, feelings of joy, gratitude, interest, and contentment typically last only a matter of minutes. Moreover, positive emotions are less intense and less attention-grabbing than negative emotions.”—Dr. Barbara Frederickson, University of Carolina
This is why you can experience something bad and it weighs down on you for the rest of your day, making it harder to be upbeat, making it harder to be kind to others. Negative emotions are stickier in our mind than positive emotions are.
Small, rude transgressions weigh down on everyone’s days.
The little things might seem insignificant, but they pile up; they do have a significant impact on people.
The person you bump into might have personal space issues.
If you brush against someone and your arm is sticky and sweaty, that other person might be severely disgusted enough that it dampens their mood.
The person whose foot you stepped on might have foot problems or could just be wearing flip flops and have no protection.
The person you were brusque to on the phone might already be having a bad day or going through something personal.
I’m not trying to make you feel bad about yourself; I’ve been both the offender and the offended in some of the above scenarios. The sweaty arm bit happened just this week and I was terribly grossed out, but I’m also guilty of having been brusque on the phone a few times in the past. I’m not perfect, you aren’t perfect, none of us are. Regardless, I try to catch myself before I’m short with someone.
You have to remind yourself that you’re both human beings, trying to get through a day. The commonality of our struggles is strong.
Neutrality is better than negativity.
Putting kindness out into the world at all times is a great thing; it’s an ideal you can aspire to, but it’s realistically not going to happen every single day.
You’re going to have bad days. We all have bad days. If you struggle with exuding cheerfulness and butterflies all the time, focus on maintaining basic courtesy.
After all, neutrality won’t dampen another person’s day, but negativity absolutely will. Psychology Today explains our brain’s negative bias and puts this sad reality frankly but truthfully; “Nastiness just makes a bigger impact on our brains.”
This might not sound awe-inspiringly scientific, but it’s true. One negative interaction with another person will have more impact on them than a handful of positive interactions.
We all have a little something called the “hedonic treadmill” that helps us right the ship.
You might vaguely remember hearing this term in a high school or college psychology class, but it’s an interesting concept that is essentially a double-edged sword.
This concept originated a very long time ago, back in 1971 when two psychologists, Philip Brickman and D. Campbell, published a paper that began research that would coin the term hedonic treadmill 20 years later.
Research in this topic is ongoing, but here’s the gist of what the hedonic treadmill is.
“The hedonic treadmill (also known as hedonic adaptation) is a theory positing that people repeatedly return to their baseline level of happiness, regardless of what happens to them.”—Positive Psychology
This theory is both good and bad, for it asserts that we all have a base level of happiness that we return to. For some, that level of happiness might be higher than another person’s.
If this theory is true, it sheds a lot of light on why it’s easier for some people to exude kindness and positivity than it is for others.
When you can manage it, positivity and courtesy really do go a long way.
Even a simple “I’m sorry,” when you bump into someone or do something a bit inconsiderate to a friend or acquaintance can go a long way.
Giving an authentic smile to your cashier next time you’re at the store might just brighten up their day a little bit.
Sure, it might not; they might be having such a dreadful day that it doesn’t matter. Yet every once in a while, that authentic smile or question of how someone is doing might just get through to another person.
Earlier this week, I was grabbing focaccia pizza in New York City and bringing it home to share with my partner. The young man behind the counter greeted me and asked how I was doing. I simply said that I was good and asked how he was doing. He smiled, said he was doing alright, but that it had been a long while since someone asked him that. We chatted a bit as I put my order in, but this was a small, shining example of how taking a few extra seconds can make a difference in your interactions.
Since I started working in New York City, I’ve become a lot more contentious about how much of a struggle it is to remain kind.
It’s easy to get swept away in the coldness of the world or the negative points in your day, but fighting back on that will do more than just improve your interactions with others.
Being kind to others and finding kindness where you don’t expect it can do wonders to help you maintain your positivity.
If you keep it up, your days can become a feedback loop where positivity and kindness dominate over negativity and rudeness.