Category Archives: Articles

KISS Principle: Keep It Simple, Sweetheart

I was super happy to be a part of Craig and Marc Kielburger’s “Brain Storm” column for The Globe and Mail a few weeks ago. The co-founders of Me to We and Free the Children canvassed a few kindness experts – including me – about injecting more common courtesies into our day-to-day routines. I talked about the importance of keeping your eyes and ears open, since it’s my belief that there are countless opportunities to do good deeds, just as long as you’re on the lookout for them. (And, yes, I did refer to doggie-doo in a national newspaper!)

Then the Kielburgers asked readers to weigh in online, and some of their ideas were published in the newspaper’s January 2 edition. Inspiring? I’d say. A common theme here was simplicity: Smile at strangers. Hold the door. Give compliments. A schoolteacher suggested a stronger focus on kindness in the classroom. Another reader talked about the value of warm, active listening (without glancing distractedly at your smartphone!). Someone suggested reminding people close to you how much they’re loved.

One woman shared this thought: “I believe we should speak our minds in a positive way more freely to strangers we meet in our everyday life. Comment when you feel they have said or done something that you respect or just let people know that you appreciate their positive energy.”

That’s what I had in mind when I thanked a bus driver, last week, for waiting a few extra seconds after he dropped off a frail lady on a snowy sidewalk. He wanted to make sure she was walking safely before he sped off. As for me, I wanted him to know I wasn’t impatient about getting to my own stop – and, in fact, appreciated his compassion.

How about you, smart and lovely people? What ideas do you have for adding more acts of kindness to an ordinary day? We’d love to hear them.

A dog waste receptacle in Germany. My question is, how do you keep your dog from wriggling while you hold his hind end over the bin? (Photo courtesy of Mister GC /

A dog waste receptacle in Germany. My question is, how do you keep your dog from wriggling while you hold his hind end over the bin? (Photo courtesy of Mister GC /

Bite-Sized Acts of Benevolence

One of the benefits of blogging here – besides the big fun and warm fuzzies – is that I get invited to write about good deeds for other websites and magazines. This is the month we’re all thinking about New Year’s resolutions, so my latest contribution to Best Health magazine’s website is a self-help story about super-easy acts of kindness.

I was inspired by a recent report from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina. A clinical psychologist at the centre’s Family Medicine department made the point that New Year’s resolutions often fail because we reach for the moon. We’d be more likely to succeed, said the report, if we focused on small potatoes when we’re planning change.

That’s why I’ve written about teeny-tiny ways to help. They’re easier to stick with, and they can still do heaping amounts of good. As I wrote in the article: “If you’ve determined you’ll run a charity marathon each month or build an orphanage, you’re a lot more likely to scrap your plans by spring.” But when you lower the bar of benevolence, you’ll meet your mark more often.

Is it lazy? No, it’s smart. Set a resolution you can keep, and you’ll change the world. Click here to read the full story.

Get By With a Little Help

There’s a lot of research out there demonstrating why we get a kick out of helping others. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you’ve heard all about it: It’s good for your physical and mental health, it lengthens your life span, yada, yada, yada.

But honestly, don’t you also enjoy having good deeds done unto you? Isn’t it rather pleasing when another person shovels your snow, sends you a client referral, brings you cake?

Mike Myatt, executive coach, gives some great tips for attracting help from other people in his Forbes column about the myth of the self-made man. He claims that no one succeeds without the support of others. (Side note to Mike: Come on, self-made women can be just as nonexistent as self-made men. Equal opportunity.)

Mike’s focus is on success in business. But his tips for drawing good deeds from others can work whether or not you’re on the job. They may be simple (“don’t be a jerk” tops the list), but they’re worth reiterating. Click here to read the full article.

Bottom line: It’s lovely to lend a hand to others, but it’s also a gas to have a hand held out to you. Either way, “don’t be a jerk” is just plain good advice.

Two Little Words

Two days ago I took a midday break from my home office to carry out a few errands the old-fashioned way: on foot. We live a kilometre away from a convenient stretch of shops and eateries, and I enjoy the walk. Somewhere between shopping for soap and picking up pencils I came to a major intersection, about to cross to the east, when I noticed a wad of discarded newspapers in the street, pages fluttering in the wind.

The traffic light was on my side, so I stepped into the street, scooped down and picked up the papers. A thin, scruffy-looking middle-aged man who was waiting to cross southward caught my eye: “Thank you,” he said. It was a nice gesture. I nodded to him before dumping the papers in a recycling receptacle a few metres away.

Of course by the time I returned to the corner, my opportunity to cross the street had passed. Scruffy approached me. “You know,” he said, “that for every good thing you do there’s a price to pay. You missed your light.”

“I don’t mind,” I assured him.

Then he did something that surprised me: He put his hand on my arm and said, beaming, “Well, thank you for doing that.”

Thus it was that when I turned back to wait for my light I was smiling. My mood was suddenly soaring. In my new Reader’s Digest article about why we’re nice, one of the psychologists I interviewed pointed out: “Thanking people is a good deed… just by saying thank you, you’re giving back.” It’s true, I was thinking now. I may be the person who picked up the papers, but it felt like I’d just been given something better.

A few seconds later I looked around. The intersection was empty of other pedestrians.

Just like that, the man had vanished.

It was a bit of a freaky moment for someone who doesn’t exactly believe in angels. I contemplated this interesting turn of events for another couple of seconds – until Scruffy came back out of the video store across the street.

So chances are, he was probably just a regular mortal after all. But the fact remains, he managed to make my day with two little words.

Hot off the Press

Ever wonder why you’re such a kind soul? Turns out evolution has a whole lot to do with it. Researchers have been uncovering evidence that helping others has all kinds of benefits for our individual survival.

Back in September, I mentioned I was working on a magazine story about the science behind why we human beans do good. I spoke with several experts for this topic. I also solicited a series of beautiful tales about acts of compassion from across Canada.

I know you’ve been sitting on the edge of your seat, so I’m pleased to say you can now read all about it in the brand-new December issue of Reader’s Digest. My feature, “The Science of Being Nice,” starts on page 66 of this issue.

I’m also making an appearance on the Reader’s Digest website. Click here to read a bit of background about my own interest in good deeds. I then invite you to scroll to the bottom of the article or click this link to submit your story about a good deed you’ve done, or an especially meaningful act of kindness you’ve witnessed or benefited from. What helping moments have stuck with you?

I’m hoping we’ll see lots of your anecdotes. If you need any more convincing, keep in mind that simply writing about a good deed is in itself a good deed. That’s because your story will inspire other people to go out and make a difference. So check out the page, write a line or two about your experience, click Submit and pat yourself on the back. Just because helping others is good for us doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the warm fuzzies that come with it.

Give Away Your Spare Parts

If you happen to be passing by a magazine rack in the near future, pick up a copy of the new October issue of Homemakers magazine. This edition includes an article I wrote about “living gifts”: that is, donations of hair, blood, bone marrow and even organs to drastically improve another person’s quality of life – or save their life.

Some donations, like blood and hair, take such relatively little time and effort that it’s probably easy to lose sight of the dramatic difference these gifts can make to someone you’ll never meet. Trust me, these donations are both needed and lifechanging. A spokesperson at a foundation that organizes wigs for chronically ill children told me: “It restores their self-esteem and their confidence… One little girl had just come from radiation treatment and could hardly keep her head up, but she had the best smile.” (Are you blubbering now? ‘Cause I sure am.)

And then there’s inner organs and stem cells. Giving away these parts of your body can’t be an easy decision when it involves taking a regimen of drugs and enduring a series of medical tests. Not to mention the plain fact that, afterwards, you’re now down to only one kidney. Plus, it’s one thing to give body parts to your own child; most parents would willingly rip out every vital organ from their body, without anesthetic, if that’s what their kids needed. But how about donating to a non-relative, or a stranger? For this magazine story I was privileged to speak to Canadians who’d done just that… and felt great about it.

Living gifts are not as daunting as you may think. Keep in mind there are plenty of ways to help without giving up your actual innards. If you want to read more, feel inspired or find out what you can do, grab the October issue of Homemakers while it’s still on sale.