The Christmas season is a busy time of year. There’s parties to attend, shopping to be done, and meals to be made. Amid all of the hustle and bustle it’s easy to forget the true meaning of the holiday season. Christmas is a time of giving, of celebrating togetherness and community. It is a time of joy and peace and goodwill.One school in Cork, Ireland, made sure it’s students didn’t forget the meaning of the season this year. During the entire month of December, teachers at Gaelscoil Mhíchíl Uí Choileáin replaced homework with random acts of kindness.
A Meaningful Tradition
This is not the first time this school has done something like this. Every December for the last three years, the students’ homework has been replaced with a different theme. Last year, the students practiced gratitude, and this year they performed random acts of kindness within their families and communities.
Throughout the entire month, all of the kids’ acts of kindness were written in a “Dialann Cineáltais”, or a “Kindness Journal” each day and signed by their parents. The school offered the students examples of things they could do, along with a schedule to help them stay on track.
“On Mondays, students can visit, phone, or send a Christmas card to a lonely relative or an elderly person. On Tuesdays, they can help out with the household chores. On Wednesdays, they should find a way to brighten up someone’s day, while the next day is reserved for self-care, they can do something they love and makes them feel good about themselves.”
Students also wrote down kind observations about their classmates, which they then dropped in a “Buicéad Cineáltais”, or “kindness bucket”. These observations were read aloud every week during the Friday meeting.
“We are encouraging our pupils to think of the real spirit of Christmas, the spirit of kindness and giving. With such an emphasis on the materialistic and commercial aspect of Christmas, we often tend to overlook what it’s really all about… Goodwill!” said vice principal Íde Ní Mhuirí.
Spreading Holiday Cheer to Those Who Need it Most
The holiday season is not full of glad tidings for everyone. Some people are struggling with poor health or mental illness, some are grieving the loss of a loved one, some are not able to be with their families, or have no family to be with during the holidays.
The school’s vice principal wanted to make sure the the students understood this.
“Unfortunately, not everyone is in a position to be able to enjoy Christmas, some are lonely, some are sad, some might yearn for what they do not have and some might simply not enjoy the festivities. But there is nobody in this world who wouldn’t benefit from an act of kindness, and the joy of kindness is that it costs nothing.”
The Psychology of Kindness
Of course, these random acts of kindness don’t just benefit the recipient. The person performing the act will also reap the rewards.
When a person does something for someone else without expecting anything in return, it actually undercuts their own selfish interests . And guess what? Being kind to others makes you happier, too!
Positive emotions are a mechanism for change. They increase your own levels of life satisfaction and decrease depressive symptoms .
Several years ago, researchers studied Japanese students and found that students who were kinder to others were happier than those who weren’t. They even found that when subjects counted up the number of acts of kindness that they had performed, they became even happier, and encouraged them to be even kinder and more grateful .
The rush of euphoria you experience when you do something good is known as the “helper’s high”. The physical sensation you feel after performing a random act of kindness causes the body to release it’s natural painkillers, endorphins . Helping others can therefore diminish the effects of minor and serious psychological and physical diseases and disorders .
Every time you remember what you did, these feelings and the benefits that come along with them return .
Kindness Promotes Gratitude
All of these benefits – the endorphins, the euphoria, occur because of gratitude. Kindness promotes gratitude because it heightens your awareness of your own good fortune .Gratitude is also important for forming and maintaining the most important relationships in our lives, those with whom we interact with daily . The sense of empathy and compassion that you develop when you are kind to others and practice gratitude leads to a stronger sense of interconnectedness with others. This interconnectedness enhances the idea that we are more similar than we are different, and strengthens our sense of community and bonding .
Ways You can Promote Kindness
If you’re feeling the urge to get out there and spread the holiday cheer to your community, but are unsure where to start, here are a few suggestions:
Compliment somebody. See someone with great hair on the subway? Tell them. Your coworker gave a great presentation at work? Say so. It’s easy to think these thoughts, but we so often keep them to ourselves. Be vocal and spread the compliments around, it could really brighten someone’s day.
Send cards to sick kids. Through the organization, Cardz for Kidz!, you can send Christmas cards to children around the world who are going through a difficult time this year.
Offer a helping hand. Do you know someone who is feeling overwhelmed? Maybe they have a new baby, or a family member is sick- whatever the reason, offer to help them out by doing some grocery shopping, or cooking a meal.
Give them a call. When was the last time you spoke with your parent or grandparent on the phone? Our lives are busy and its easy to let weeks and months go by without chatting with our family members. Some of them, particularly our older family, often feel lonely and isolated. If you can’t go to them in person, give them a call just to chat.
Bring some flowers. You could buy flowers for a loved one, or even bring some over to the local old age home to add some colorful cheer to their space.
There are a thousand ways you can spread some kindness to your friends, families, and communities. There are even calendars with fun ideas to help keep you on track. Start small, and watch the happiness grow.
The Irish School’s vice principal said it best: “Our message to the children is very simple: they can be the reason somebody smiles today and they can definitely help make this world a better place for others and for themselves.”