The holidays make me think of two things: (1) lots of talk about kindness and giving and “the holiday spirit,” and (2) lots of stress about travel, family, last-minute work, and other holiday hassles. The problem is that I’m usually too busy dealing with #2 to bother with #1. Sound familiar at all? We often feel too weighed down by our own problems to worry about other people. But we’re missing one simple point: Caring about others actually reduces our stress.
How to be selfishly kind
Most of our stress and anxiety come from a fixation on our own petty concerns, the stories we fabricate about what’s wrong with ourselves and our lives. When we turn our focus toward others, we loosen up this stressful, self-oriented fixation, and we can relax a bit.
For thousands of years, meditation masters have taught techniques for cultivating an attitude of kindness and generosity. They didn’t do it because they were hippies. They did it because kinder people are happier. As the Dalai Lama says, “If you want to be selfish, be wisely selfish: care for others.” Science supports this idea too; studies show that people who volunteer are more satisfied with life, experience enhanced well-being, and may even live longer. What better time than the holiday season to get in on that action?
Here is a quick, simple kindness meditation you can try when you’re caught up in holiday stress:
- Close your eyes and picture someone you feel great love and gratitude for. It can be a relative, a friend, a mentor, etc. Cute babies and animals also work well.
- Inhale and silently say, “May all your suffering melt away.” Imagine that you’re breathing in the person’s (or animal’s) suffering as a black cloud. (Note: This will not actually transfer their suffering to you.)
- Exhale and silently say, “May you overflow with happiness.” Imagine breathing out happiness toward the person in the form of sunny, yellow light.
- Repeat steps 1–3 for someone you feel more neutrally toward, like a classmate or acquaintance. Alternatively, go for a walk and do this practice for random people you pass on the street.
Happy (and kind) holidays!
Source: Jenkinson, C. E., Dickens, A. P., Jones, K., Thompson-Coon, J., et al. (2013). Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers. BMC Public Health, 13(1), 773.