Some years ago, a student was giving a presentation for a class I was teaching. The idea was to persuade a resistant audience to change their attitudes or behaviors about an issue. In the course of her message, she recalled something one of her mentors had said to her: “If you have a chance to make someone’s day better, always take that opportunity.” I’ve thought about that statement many times, when I am on the road in Atlanta traffic, in the classroom, or encountering a surly person checking groceries.
Letting someone in ahead of you in traffic is a small gesture, but the person whom you accommodate may be having an awful day and feeling negative about the human race in general. Asking the grumpy cashier how her day is going or if she has been busy will often make a huge change in attitude. Paying for the person’s order behind you in the drive-through may instigate a long chain of goodness.
Interestingly, the benefit runs both ways. Doing something nice for someone else not only helps that person but can also be a huge boost to your own attitude. Psychologists tell us that refusing to return rudeness can calm the hostile person. Similarly, paying kindness forward can be contagious—even to the more hard-core grouch.
This New Year’s resolution won’t burn calories or break the bank, but the dividends can be ongoing and very real.