New Year’s resolutions are a statement of hope. We make them, not to scold ourselves, but to hold out the possibility that we can change something. So we swear we’ll finally lose that 10 (or more) pounds, that we’ll quit bad habits we enjoy, or we’ll hit the gym more often. Never mind that studies show that almost 90 percent of such resolutions are broken within two weeks of New Year’s. Our intentions were good. Oh well.
I think we break those self-promises almost as soon as they’re made because they are too ambitious. We ask ourselves to take on something that has been a long-term issue and then feel too discouraged or overwhelmed by the idea to really take it on. Then we feel even worse about ourselves because once again, we didn’t do it. So we have another piece of chocolate or another cigarette and promise that maybe we’ll go the gym tomorrow.
I think I have a better idea: Make those resolutions of good intention if you must. But I have something far simpler and more doable in mind. I would like everyone in the world to resolve to be a little more generous every day. Instead of trying to stop an old habit, why not try on a new one? Promise yourself that you will be a little more open-hearted and open-handed this year.
Generosity is good for you, the people around you and the planet. A University of Michigan study showed that people who are generous live longer, are generally healthier and less stressed, and have a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. Men who regularly did volunteer work had death rates 2.5 times lower than men who didn’t. Other studies show that people who actively participate in their community through acts of service and kindness have a higher level of self-esteem than those who don’t.
Generosity doesn’t have to be grand, although it can be. It doesn’t have to take a whole lot of extra time or money. It doesn’t require you to clean your house or organize your closets. It doesn’t require a membership in a self-help group or a gym or a club. All it takes is a little more thoughtfulness every day.
Below are five ways to put the resolution to be generous into action:
- Give other people more slack.
Often when people say or do unkind things, it has nothing to do with you. They’ve had a bad day or bad year. They’ve had disappointments and setbacks that have made them cynical, defensive or angry. Under their grim exterior is a person who is hurting. Chances are that if you had lived in their skin and experienced what they experienced, you’d be as difficult as they are. Have compassion. Resist the temptation to be mean or cynical or angry back.
- Give yourself some slack.
You’ve had your share of discouragement, disappointments, and setbacks too. That’s hard enough to handle without adding a layer of scolding and pessimism to the mix. Acknowledge the mistake or failure, sure. That’s how we learn. But then remind yourself that you’ve had better days and resolve to do what you need to do to make life turn around again.
- Practice random acts of kindness and beauty at least a few times a day.
Hold a door for someone. Smile at the person who bags your groceries. Praise the kid who made your sandwich at the lunch counter. Take that extra few seconds to acknowledge that other people do things for us almost every day. If you can add something pretty to the mix, by all means do it. Straighten up the kitchen at work. Take out the trash. Bring a flower to someone who least expects it.
- Write thank-you notes.
Put a stack of notecards on your desk or kitchen table. Take a moment every day to think about who deserves some appreciation. Slip one into your kids’ lunchboxes or your partner’s jacket pocket. Leave one for the person who delivers your mail. Send one out to the teacher who had a positive impact on your life or the doctor who has been there for you or the person at the drive-up window who gives you your coffee with a smile. Send one off to one of the celebrities who is doing something positive with their millions instead of buying five luxury homes.
- Do some community service.
It does take a village, not only to raise a child but also to make a community. Look around. Probably hundreds of people are doing things big and small to make your community a kinder, gentler place. Some are volunteering at the local survival center or food bank. Others help out at the schools. Still others are serving as youth group leaders or reading aloud to little kids at the library or the old folks at the senior center. There’s a need that is crying out for you to fill it. Add your time and your voice to the chorus of helpers. It will make your neighborhood or town or city a better place.
Let’s make a resolution that could start a revolution. Think about it. If everyone in the world made a resolution to be more generous this year – and did it – it could change the world for the better.