Happiness is a by-product of an effort to make someone else happy.
~Gretta Brooker Palmer
I cast a warning glare and mouthed the words "Just a minute!" as my daughter tugged my hand. I was stirring chili with the other hand and balancing the phone between my shoulder and chin. The clothes dryer buzzer sounded as my husband walked in with our other daughter. The dog was scratching at the door, and we had about twenty minutes to eat before we had to take the girls to their next activity. My husband seemed a bit annoyed that dinner was not already on the table. The girls started arguing about who had to let the poor dog back into the house.
That night, I had a heavy heart thinking about how mindless my family's routines had become. We were becoming taskmasters who performed each day's activities as if we were on an assembly line. We had become absorbed in our own activities and not very considerate towards those around us. We needed to do something to bring back some meaning into our lives. It needed to be something that would refocus our own agendas and energize us toward the common good.
I purchased a journal, labeled it "Our Deed Diary" and held a family meeting. I told my husband and our daughters that I wanted us all to think about doing a kindness for others every day. It could be for each other or for people outside our home. The purpose was to reduce the focus on ourselves and brighten someone else's day in the process.
We talked about what a good deed would mean for this "project." We decided that a good deed was doing something nice for someone else that they were not expecting. It could be as simple as making a card for your teacher or going out of your way to give someone a compliment for something he or she did. We decided to record our deeds every day and discuss them over dinner. The girls seemed excited at the prospect of this new "game" we were playing. My husband rolled his eyes. I said a little prayer.
When I first conceived of this project, I thought that one deed a day was too easy. Let me tell you; it is harder than it seems. We all, of course, do things for others on a regular basis; but this had to be something above and beyond what we already do. Sending birthday cards to people that we already send cards to every year would not count. This had to be an unexpected effort on our parts.
We had a rough start. We were supposed to talk about our good deeds and write them in our Deed Diary at dinner every day. On some days, someone would forget to do a good deed, while on other days, we would forget to write our good deeds in the diary. After a few weeks though, I found myself waking up in the morning trying to decide what good deed I could do for someone that day. My daughters began to rush to me after school to tell me a good deed they had done for someone that day.
We have been doing good deeds for nearly a year now. I am happy to say that it is making a difference in our lives. Instead of always wondering what the day will bring for us, we think about what we can do for someone else. At dinner, we have an instant conversation starter, as we all share our stories.
I have expanded the deed experiment to my first grade classroom. I started out by having every student write a letter to someone in the school to thank him or her for something he or she does for us. It was most touching to observe the janitor, nurse, librarian, and other school staff hang our notes on their walls while beaming because they felt appreciated.
In my classroom, every student does not have to do a good deed every day, but our class, as a whole, tries to show at least three kindnesses to others each day. We record them and I am most boastful about how thoughtful the students are towards others. When a student spills his or her crayons, you wouldn't believe how many kids scurry over to try to help and clean them up! Just as with my family, keeping and sharing a Deed Diary changed our whole outlook on life.
Who would have thought that trying to do a simple kindness a day would be so rewarding? I feel my daughters and first grade students better understand the old saying that "it is better to give than to receive." They have felt that indescribable feeling of inner joy that you can only experience by giving to someone else from your heart. The best thing is that you feel so great about doing something for someone else, you don't even look for or expect anything in return. So, when someone does reciprocate, it is an enormous and positive bonus. When someone does something nice for me, I now think of it as, "What a great idea! I'll have to do that for someone too!"
This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness © 2011 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.