“What if you don’t respect or appreciate your spouse?”
That’s the question a woman asked social researcher Shaunti Feldhahn after she spoke at a conference on the topic of kindness.
Feldhahn encouraged her to take a 30-day Kindness Challenge. The steps are:
- Say nothing negative about that person – either to them or about them.
- Each day, find one positive thing to praise or affirm about that person. Then tell them and tell someone else.
- Each day, do one small act of kindness or generosity for them.
- You may or may not choose to tell the person you chose about the challenge.
Three years later, the same woman approached Feldhahn and said, “You won’t remember me, but I asked you a question three years ago about what to do if you don’t respect or appreciate your spouse. I decided to take you up on the Kindness Challenge and I learned a lot about myself. I had no idea how unkind I was to my husband, and I thought it was all him. As I was kind to him, his defenses lowered. Three years later, we have a great marriage.”
“What I have found based on my research is that when kindness starts to flow, it is really incredible,” says Feldhahn. “It’s actually a real-life superpower. For years, I’ve been studying what makes people thrive. And I’ve seen that whether or not we thrive in relationships is far more related to how we treat others than how we ourselves are treated.”
Feldhahn believes kindness is the answer in any difficult situation.
“This means being kind when you are super-irritated and you really don’t want to be,” Feldhahn shares. “Even in situations where you need boundaries, that is usually the kindest thing you can do. If someone is being abusive, for example, it is not kind to allow that person to continue to destroy their own emotional state by being that way.”
For her book, The Kindness Challenge, Feldhahn surveyed study participants extensively before and after the 30-day period. After completing the challenge, 89 percent of all relationships had improved, 74 percent felt more love and affection for their romantic partner, and 66 percent felt more love and appreciation by their romantic partner.
“One of the biggest surprises from the research was that most of us already think we are kind,” Feldhahn says. “In fact, most of us are totally delusional. We have no idea how often we are unkind without even realizing it. In the book, we identify seven patterns of unkindness and negativity – and every one of us has at least one of them! We encourage everyone to identify their own pattern of negativity – because in most cases it is a pattern across all relationships, not just that one.”
The Challenge opened participants’ eyes very quickly to that reality, and it showed them that they also weren’t as affirming to the other person as they thought. It also changed their feelings, to appreciate the person more.
As Feldhahn put it, “That only makes sense, right? After all, if you’re irritated with someone, and you tell them that you’re irritated, and you tell someone else that you’re irritated, are you doing to be more or less irritated?”
We all know the answer to that. Just as we know that we’ll simply notice the positive more if we’re looking for it. And while being kind doesn’t take away problems, it often makes them easier to solve.
Feldhahn wants the Challenge to transform relationships.
“It’s really life-changing,” Feldhahn suggests. “It is a training ground to become a truly kind person. You have to designate one person to do the challenge for. But it can be anyone – your spouse, child, friend, in-law, co-worker, anybody.”
Like the woman who didn’t respect or appreciate her spouse, the outcome is a pleasant surprise for many Challenge-takers after 30 days.
If you’d like to try it for yourself, you can find out more at jointhekindnesschallenge.com. The outcome just might surprise you, too.
This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 7, 2017.