It’s almost the new year, a time to stop and reflect and make promises to ourselves to improve on something. I’ve been mulling it over for days. Big items like hitting the gym more often and losing that 10 (ok, 25) pounds seem doomed to failure. What, I’ve been asking myself, is a realistic self-improvement program that I can stick to and feel good about? Then someone gave me a wave. You know the kind: I let someone turn in traffic ahead of me, and he gave that little “thank you” wave that people do. He got to turn. And I got the “aha” moment I was looking for.
It comes down to taking an extra 5 seconds to be thoughtful, kind, or appreciative. For the rest of the day, I looked for ways that I or other people make the world a little kinder. On my way to the store, I let a couple more people in traffic go first. They smiled and did the little wave. I smiled too because I knew I had taken just a smidgeon of stress out of their lives. When I got to the grocery store parking lot, I watched one driver let another have a parking space that he could just as easily have scored — 5 seconds. As I did my shopping, I observed someone reach to the top shelf for a brand of cereal an elderly — and very tiny — woman needed (they always put the bran up there!) — 5 seconds.
At the end of a crowded aisle, four carts were in a standoff that could have evolved into a miniature version of road rage. Instead it evolved into a comedy of politeness as one after another said, “after you. No, After you” — 5 seconds.
While standing in the check-out line with a dozen items in the bottom of my cart, the woman ahead of me whose cart was overflowing said “you go ahead of me. Merry Christmas” — 5 seconds and a season’s greeting.
Terrific! With this experiment going on, I could hardly leave my cart out in the parking lot. I dutifully brought it back to the door so the teenager who has the thankless job of collecting carts would have one less to fetch — 5 seconds.
This was beginning to be fun. At dinner, I talked to my kids about my day and wondered aloud if we could try it at home. Brainstorming together, we found an endless number of 5 second tasks that would make our family friendlier: Put a new roll of toilet paper on when you’ve used the last sheet. Move someone else’s washer load to the dryer. How about putting away those dishes in the drainer without being asked? Or surprising someone by doing a part of one of their chores for just 5 seconds? Or — to be a bit more nurturing — how about offering a 5 second backrub, or making someone a cup of tea, or sharing a cookie, or letting someone else have the first turn? All take only a few seconds or minutes. None are in themselves a big deal. All can make a difference in the climate of our home and in how both the giver and receiver personally feel.
5 seconds may not seem like much. But to the stressed someone who is given the gift of a little kindness, that few seconds can be an affirmation that they are not alone. For the person who has had a generally bad day, 5 seconds of attention, help or courtesy can put a little light back into life. For someone whose day is going well, it offers a companionable moment of warmth.
None of us, by ourselves, can create the world peace we all long for. But all of us are capable of taking that extra 5 seconds that contributes to the project. Seconds of kindness add up to hours which add up to days and weeks. As a New Year’s resolution, I promise myself that I’ll regularly increase my 5 second deposits into our collective goodwill. That’s a promise I can keep.
Happy New Year! May this year be a kind one for you and yours.