When it comes to kindness, what you say can mean as much as what you do.
Many acts of kindness don’t require a single word — for example, smiling at a stranger, holding a door open, donating to a food bank, picking up a neighbor’s mail. Other times, though, what you say can be a powerful way to convey empathy and compassion.
For words to have a special meaning, we need to push ourselves to go deeper than the polite, top-level exchanges so many of us have each day. The kind of boilerplate conversations where you ask someone, “How are you?” and they respond with, “Good, thank you, how are you?” — even if they’re anything but good.
Being more aware of what we say to others can deepen our connection to them, and create a ripple of kindness that extends well beyond that one moment, says Celeste Headlee, author of We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter.
“Kindness isn’t always a compliment or soft language,” says Headlee. “Sometimes it takes a different form, that involves being vulnerable and approachable.”
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How do you create an environment where you can build trust and connection with other people? Well, it can start with these four key phrases. Download the 7-Day Kindness Challenge Activity Guide and use the notes section to jot down how your kind words went over when you used them today!
Kindness Phrase #1: “Want to take a walk with me?”
Walking is a powerhouse workout with major health benefits. But when you invite a friend along, walking is also a surefire way to build a deeper connection with those you care about.
In fact, a study from the American Psychological Association suggests that going for a walk with a partner can be key to working through interpersonal conflicts. Anyone who’s taken a long walk with a friend knows this well — you might start with small talk, but by the end, you’re unpacking your heart.
A few things may be at play here, according to the study’s authors. You’re working together to make progress, you’re moving in sync, and you’re giving the other person your undivided attention. And that’s important, since kindness often means listening, as well as offering input. Being there for someone else and hearing them in a non-judgmental and supportive way can be deeply meaningful, Headlee suggests.
Kindness Phrase #2: “How can I help?”
Instead of asking a question that’s more vague and potentially off-putting such as, “Do you need help?” it’s a better approach to ask for suggestions, says Headlee. You could follow this up with suggestions tailored to whatever your friend, family member, or acquaintance is experiencing.
For example, if your friend is feeling stressed and overwhelmed, offer to run an errand or do another task that would take something off their to-do list.
Kindness Phrase #3: “I love ____ about you!”
Another top strategy for putting kindness into practice is through sincere compliments and expressions of gratitude. And, believe it or not, social media can be the perfect avenue to practice this phrase. Although many platforms can be awash in negativity, that doesn’t have to be the case. You can easily spread compassion, friendliness, joy, and humor with just a few words.
The next time you go online, make your very first comment a compliment or word of thanks. Not only will that give the other person a boost, but it will bring some light into your own day, too.
Kindness Phrase #4: “Just wanted to say hello, hope you’re having a good day”
Here’s another simple habit that can feel meaningful: Send one text this afternoon to someone in your contacts list, saying hello. That’s it.
“Sometimes, just checking in with someone shows you’re thinking about them,” says Headlee. “It doesn’t need to be a big effort, it’s just an acknowledgment that they’re important to you.”
You’ll notice that all of these tactics involve taking the first step, and that can feel awkward, Headlee adds. But over time, as you put these habits into place, it will begin to feel more natural to spread kindness over what you say, whether it’s the words you speak or the text you write.
Come back tomorrow for Day 3 of the Kindness Challenge, when we’ll focus on finding a way to give back to the community that feels right for you. Did you miss the 25 small acts of kindness from Day 1? Find them here.
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