When Is the Last Time You Did Something for a Stranger?

In some situations, helping others is not a question of having fun. It is a question of moral duty, which we have as human beings. There are two ways to look upon this moral duty: must-to-do or want-to-do thing. It may be beneficial to our happiness and personal growth if we embrace the latter attitude.

I don’t have time for myself, so much less for others

New York Times reported on a study done by Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist and four psychologists that finds that women perceive the time with their parents being similar to work. Tasks such as helping with the housekeeping or planning family gatherings with their parents are found to be less pleasant for women. Other studies find that modern women experience a sink in their personal happiness due to the increase of tasks they need to manage. (link to the article in the New York Times)

Some of us find time to go to the gym. Others invest time in finding out how to cook healthy food or where should they go in the next holiday. How about investing a tiny bit of time into cleansing our inner lives? Imagine how our lives would be with hardly any consuming thoughts.

As paradoxical as it may sound, it may help a great deal to get more involved in the community of humankind where we signed up when we were born. Being present for others around us means observing life as it happens. At first, it may be challenging because we are too engaged with our daily problems. Even when we don’t have a problem, our mind creates one.

The great news is that learning how to be aware of the people around us can be turned into a habit, just like any other habit. Starting with baby steps may be a wise decision. For example, we can start by learning to become aware of the people we pass by in the street.

A few days ago, something wonderful happened when I was travelling with my baby by bus. A middle-aged woman stopped right in front of us, gave an energising smile and said, “Hello”, to my baby.

He is usually looking at the other passengers with the curiosity of a child. The others do their best at avoiding eye contact, God knows where their thoughts are taking them. This woman not only noticed my baby’s eyes but greeted him with a spontaneous joy. For a few seconds, we stood there smiling at one another, forming a triangle of sunshine.

What happened after this short connection with a stranger? The numbness I felt was replaced by aliveness. My inner world turned into a space of joy and peace.

Our empathy, warmth and affection need training, just like our muscles

Make a baby smile.

Listen to an elderly person in the street.

Make room for spontaneous meetings with friends.

Keep company to your ageing parent when seeing a doctor.

Actions like these are maintaining the aliveness and spaciousness in us. Yes, it is very important to focus on our lives and to achieve our dreams. Yet, the meaningful and happy life is within our reach when we develop the habit of giving and receiving empathy, human warmth and affection.

There is potential for happiness in each one of us with so much creativity and positive energy. If we take some distance from our everyday problems and focus, for a change, on what happens around us, then we’ll find ways of releasing this potential!


Which Do You Prefer: Kissing or Hugging Your Friends?

For the last ten years, I have been living in a multicultural environment in which I had to learn new ways to behave with friends. For example, when I meet a friend, I need to remind myself in what country I am so that I adapt the appropriate behaviour: kiss on both cheeks or give a hug around the neck.

The culture in my home country is to kiss friends on both cheeks. When I moved to the country of adoption, of course I started comparing how friends express affection towards one another! Of course, I interpreted the hugging around the neck as a sign of less affection, especially when the person hugging me would keep the rest of the body slightly farther from my body. I longed after kissing on cheeks as a sign of affection towards friends.

Darwin conjectured that kissing is innate in our genes. To date, scientists have not been able to conclude whether kissing is a learned behaviour for affection or whether we kiss out of instinct (Sheril Kirshenbaum, The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us). Hugging may have a similar innate tendency.

Instinctively, our bodies know better that kissing and hugging have health benefits, as the research shows. Hugging seems to increase the levels of oxytocin and reduce blood pressure (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4131508.stm). Women seem to get more health benefits from hugging than men, the research does not tell why. Maybe because women are more needy of affection? Maybe.

Children in particular are in need of affection. According to intelligence researcher Jay Gordon, co-author of “Brighter Baby”, children who receive long hugs each day, are smarter (http://www.ehow.com/about_4572011_what-hug-day.html).

Romantic kissing was proven to relax the brain, reduce stomach and bladder infections, and relieve pain, just to name a few of the benefits (http://www.bestkisses.com/kisses-for-health.html). I could not find any study on what kind of health benefits the kiss on the cheeks has. I would argue that kissing on the cheeks has the psychological benefit of boosting the self-esteem. Isn’t that a wonderful feeling when you are reminded that you have friends who love and respect you?

Taking a closer look at the ‘kiss on the cheek’ culture, with disappointment I came to realise that sometimes the kisses were theatrical. So, the years spent in the multicultural environment, opened my eyes to these two types of non-verbal communication of affection between friends and put an end to my longing after kissing on the cheek. In the end, I guess that both kissing and hugging can convey affection in an equal manner provided the underlying feeling is sincere.

Beyond the cultural norms, showing affection to friends is a question of personal preference. Some may be more comfortable with kissing, others with hugging. Some may prefer both, while others would skip both. It depends on how comfortable each of us is with showing our affection. And as long as we do it from the heart, the health benefits are guaranteed. How many of the hugs and kisses that we receive during one day are sincere? Let’s do the counting in our silent corner, shall we?

BTW Merry Christmas to You! 🙂