I believe that kindness is the key to happiness.
Perhaps the word kindness is too trite. For most people, the word probably recalls grade school, where we were taught to “be nice” to each other. For a second grader, “be nice” means don’t call anyone names, don’t take their belongings, and don’t use your fists in an argument. In short, “be nice” means don’t be mean.
But I believe kindness goes beyond that. It goes beyond apathy and lukewarm tolerance towards people. It ignores the tendency to look out for only ourselves. It is really caring about the people around us, having compassion and empathy for their problems. Kindness is when we completely lose ourselves in the concern for someone else.
One of the best experiences I had of this was two years ago on Christmas Eve. My youth group at church decided to visit a nursing home to sing carols and give little angels to the residents.
At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about going. At fifteen, aging doesn’t cross your mind very often. All of my grandparents are alive and independent- even some of my great-grandparents live alone. Nursing homes were foreign to me, and I was sure it would be uncomfortable and depressing.
When we got there, we walked down the corridor to the individual rooms. The shining tile floors and the attire of the nurses gave the complete air of a hospital. I couldn’t imagine staying there for Christmas, let alone living there till I died.
I looked at the residents. It was so sad to think that none of them had a place to go that night. They were forgotten by most; only a handful had visitors. Some of the residents were being pushed in wheelchairs, others couldn’t even leave their beds.
I began to want to do anything to make their Christmas more enjoyable. In that moment, I wanted to be there. I felt a sympathy for their situation.
It was amazing to see how the residents appreciated our caroling, and the little gifts we gave them. I saw smiles begin to steal across their faces, and soon I had a permanent one. Anything we could do, we did. I remember my friend and I jumping at the opportunity to hang up a resident’s shirt in his armoire. The happiness was contagious.
As we left, an old man stopped us. He was using a walker, and his hands shook from arthritis. We exchanged pleasantries and Happy Holidays. Then he looked us all straight in the eye, and said, “May your lives be as wonderful as you plan them.”
I walked out of that nursing home completely happy- simply because I had made someone else happy. I had completely forgotten my own life in that hour and a half. And I had hope in goodness, in true kindness to each other, no matter who we are. That is why, I believe, we love the season of Christmas. May we have that spirit year round.
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