03 November 2014

How to Be Happier

We're busy. Things move fast. A problem only compounded with increased age and added responsibilities. Our online lives are supposedly helping us in this new-world. We're always connected, making it easy to feel like we're efficiently staying in touch with the people we care about. But all we're really doing is blindly scrolling through social media updates, consuming information, and not adding anything to the conversation.

Don't get me wrong, I love me some social media. It's the primary way I communicate, and is a large part of my job. But I'm also a bit of an old soul. I like to read real books and write with a pen and paper and unplug for hours or days at a time in the mountains. These things make me feel happy - more like me - and I can tell when I've gone too long without taking time to detox from technology and just ... be.

Even though I know what I personally need to be happy, I still always read those How To articles about increasing your happiness. You know the ones: Do THIS For 10 Minutes a Day and Be Happier, Eat More of THESE for a Happier Mind, Why You Should Meditate/Practice Yoga/Go for a Walk for a Happier Life. 

One common theme in these articles is the concept of doing something nice for someone else. Until recently, I just wasn't fully sold on this idea. I don't do a lot of gift giving - I haven't celebrated Christmas in nearly a decade - and I don't typically get people birthday gifts (although I do love to celebrate birthdays).

There is one thing I really love though: sending and receiving cards in the mail. It's a dying practice, but some of my very favorite people are those who still send cards to say thank you, happy birthday, or hey, I was thinking about you and just wanted to send this card to let you know.

Recently my friend Jason made another trip around the sun. He wasn't overly excited about this particular milestone, and instead of celebrating he chose to quietly remove his birthday from Facebook, and had planned to spend his "special day" ignoring the fact that he was now one year older. 

I had other plans.

Like me, Jason is a bit of an "old-soul". He listens to jazz and appreciates time in the mountains and cooks things from scratch and, most importantly, takes the time to truly connect with people in a meaningful, authentic way. We've recently experienced a huge amount of loss in our friend group. Through it all, Jason was steadfast in his support of everyone, making sure we all knew he was there for us, but also how he felt about us and WHY he appreciated us in his own life. 

Jason and I, all dressed up.

If anyone earned the right to not celebrate a birthday, it was Jason. And I wasn't about to drag him out to one of my ridiculous surprise theme parties. Instead, I wanted to honor the person he is by helping him realize just how much he means to our community here. So using social media (I know, I know) I set up a private FB event about a week before his birthday and invited 100 of our mutual friends to participate.

The ask was simple: send Jason a birthday card and write a personal note about what he means to you. That's it.

I had no idea what to expect, and of course Jason had no idea what was coming. But what happened next truly was remarkable. First, he got 4 cards. Then 7. Then 13. Then 13 more. And they just kept on coming. By his birthday he had received more than 40 cards. All from people in his life who care about him. And each one with its own personal flair. 

Equally remarkable was the sense of community it built for many of us participating. Without my prompting, someone posted a photo of their card on the event page. Lots of folks 'liked' that post. Then more people posted their cards. And I shared my card. The Michael who was in Wisconsin shared his card and the sentiment that he hoped it made it from the boonies in time. And so on and so forth. The cards...the cards were great.

Some of the cards. One of them is mine.

Of course Jason was very confused by the sudden influx to his mail box. He sent me many text messages trying to get to the bottom of the "Birthday Card Fairy" mystery. He sent photos of the cards, which I turned around and shared on our event page for everyone to see. Then I had folks asking me every day how many he had received. "Did Jason check his mail yet?", they would ask. "What's the total up to now?". "Did he get mine?!?". The excitement for all of us "behind the scenes" was pretty fantastic.

All of this had a profound and unexpected affect on me personally. I knew what was coming, yet being a part of the surprise for Jason made me incredibly happy. I found myself walking through the dog park reading updates with a huge, shit-eating grin on my face. I mean, I was THAT GUY at the park, and I didn't care. Not one bit. All I wanted to do was grab everyone and tell them about this amazing gift that doing a simple kindness had given to me. Knowing what it meant to Jason, being a part of making his unwelcome birthday a cause for celebration, was incredibly powerful.

Cards cards everywhere.

After the big secret was revealed, Jason and I talked a lot about what the Card Mob meant to him, and in turn how it affected all of us involved. I invited him to the secret event page, and after reading all of our funny updates to each other, this was his reaction:

What you did changed my world and I am so grateful. This is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me. Besides being the best birthday present EVER the personal notes have meant so much to me. Thank you so much for sharing such nice and wonderful things. I could hear and see each one of you as I opened the card. To say I am touched does not even do it justice. I can't even being to describe the love and respect I have felt. Thank you all for the best birthday ever. 

Ultimately, this shows how much a random act of kindness CAN change the world (even if it's just your small, immediate world), and more importantly can change YOU. It's a wonderful feeling to truly touch someone's heart. Jason likes to say the heart is an emotional muscle and becomes stronger with exercise. I have to agree with him. And we all will benefit from being better at telling the people in our lives just how much they mean to us.

Which is my way of saying all those studies are true. You really SHOULD go do something nice for someone, whether you know them well or not. Hold the door open for a stranger. Tip an extra buck at lunch. Buy dinner for your friend when you normally go halfsies. Call someone you care about but haven't talked to in a long time and tell them what they mean to you. Buy a book of stamps and use them all by the end of the year sending cards to people you care about.

It will change you. I promise.

Happy Birthday Jason.


claire reinert said...

This is an amazing idea and very inspirational. Thank you for igniting change in every aspect of your life... it spreads like wildfire.

Also, can I steal this idea???

Eilleen Shore said...

Thank you making my son's birthday so special, it has meant a lot to him.
It was such a wonderful idea and so thoughtful.

Kristina said...

Thanks Claire! You can SO steal the idea. In fact, I think everyone should.

And of course Eilleen, my absolute pleasure. Your son is a total doll and makes my life better. This was the least I could do.

Laura Grieser said...

Wow! I absolutely LOVE this idea. I'm also an "old soul," in that I absolutely love pen and paper, real books (no thanks, iBooks), and sending handwritten letters. This is such a wonderful way to celebrate someone. Bravo! Side bar: I'm heading to New Zealand next week (WOAH!) and am literally laughing out loud at your posts about the signs. Can not wait. Cheers!