3 Unexpected Ways to Brighten Someone’s Day
You can’t live the perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you. — John Wooden
Nothing uplifts our spirits more than brightening someone’s day. According to research, selfless acts don’t just benefit the receiver; they also improve the doer’s well-being by releasing dopamine in our brains. And prolonged acts of random kindness flood the brain with oxytocin, which reduces chronic stress and anxiety.
Smiles, text messages, “thank-you” cards, and gifts are all nice. To an extent, they’re even expected. But intangible gestures can leave an impact that lasts longer. All it takes is a little thought and effort.
Here are three ways to brighten someone’s day, at work or outside.
1. Follow the Silver Rule
Someone I know has just a handful of friends, but each of them loves her to bits. When asked why, they all said, “I don’t feel judged around her.”
Curious, I asked her what her secret was. She summed it up in a single line: “I don’t treat anyone the way I wouldn’t want to be treated.”
Everyone knows the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. But most people ignore the silver rule: Don’t do unto others what you wouldn’t have them do unto you.
It’s easy to get carried away in the desire to help someone. Such enthusiasm could make us say or do things that hurt the other person. We might use unpleasant words for our friend, colleague, or partner because they’re the “the hard truth.” But when we are on the receiving end, the same words could sound “nasty.”
Did your boss vent his anger about something else on you? Were people mean to you when you were struggling rather than helping you out? Or was their “help” actually unsolicited advice that made you feel judged?
You can break the chain. Instead of doing the same to someone else because “that’s how the world is,” you can do avoid doing what you wouldn’t have wanted others to do to you. You can lend a helping hand to people who are down. You can offer them a few words of encouragement. Or you could simply stay quiet. Your silence alone will lift a huge burden off their chest because they won’t feel like they’re under a scanner.
All you have to do before you say saying something is to ask yourself, “How would I feel if someone else said this to me?”
2. See people for who they are
I was talking to a founder who had built three successful startups. In each of them, people had readily gone out of their ways to meet seemingly impossible goals.
What made the founder such a dynamic personality? There was nothing special about the way he looked or spoke. It was the way he perceived people.
As a child, the founder was dyslexic. This meant he was either neglected or seen as a problem at school and at home. It didn’t matter that he could visualize complex engineering diagrams in his head. His teachers and parents kept trying to make him “normal.”
“I felt like I was always wearing the Cloak of Invisibility,” he said. “And not being seen for decades had a deep impact on me. It made me want to see people, not for who they can be, but who they are.”
This helps him identify people’s strengths and build meaningful relations. He also learns something new each day and goes to bed wiser than he was when he awoke.
People don’t need expensive gifts or showers of compliments to brighten their day. Just feeling seen, heard, and understood is enough.
Spend a few minutes connecting with a friend, colleague, or stranger. Ask them questions, listen to their answers, and genuinely try to understand how they feel. Resist the temptation to tell them what to do.
When you stop trying to turn people into who you think they can be, you can make them feel better for who they are.
3. Don’t be needed, be useful
Each time a friend of mine commutes in the hot weather, he gives traffic policemen packaged drinking water bottles without any fanfare. No photos, no social media posts, nothing.
One scorching afternoon, I was sitting in his car with the air-conditioning on full blast. He pulled up beside a traffic policeman and asked me to hand a bottle to the cop. The policeman smiled, thanked me, and shook my hand.
That day, a grin as wide as the Grand Canyon stayed plastered on my face. It was also the day when I learned the difference between being needed and being useful.
The earlier me used to offer my help to anyone who I thought needed it. I made it my responsibility to fix everyone’s problems at work. I tried to be a knight in shining armor for friends. The result? I felt burned out at work. I soured relations with my friends because I felt unappreciated for my effort which they never asked for in the first place.
Wanting to be needed stokes the ego. It makes us place ourselves on a pedestal. And we cannot help someone if we’re looking down on them. Plus, the expectation of recognition, rewards, and reciprocation follow. Not getting those fractures our self-esteem.
But trying to be useful stokes the soul. You focus on how you can help people instead of doing what you think will help them. And you can do your best without feeling obligated or harboring expectations.
Now, instead of asking myself, “Who needs me?”, I ask, “How can I be useful?”, and act on the answers. At work, I take up initiatives that will move the needle forward for the organization. My personal podcast, where I interview accomplished experts and entrepreneurs and share my own learnings, is an attempt to help people find answers to problems they’re grappling with.
But being useful doesn’t demand grand gestures. Tiny ones are equally valuable. Offer to pick groceries for your old neighbors or babysit a friend’s child so she can take a walk in peace. Take out an hour from your “me-time” to complete a project for a colleague who’s struggling to balance their work and family. Share job openings with someone who got laid off. If nothing else, leave people feeling positive after you speak with them.
Following the three steps above can turn kindness into a habit.
One useful act from you can lift someone’s spirits or even change their lives. No amount of money, possessions, or Instagram followers even comes close to this feeling.
The best part is that doing this doesn’t take much. Tiny random acts of kindness can make a huge difference.
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