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Cover of Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting

Piers and Sanjay were strangers who had never spoken, despite seeing each other daily for years while commuting on the same train. Piers was a disillusioned banker, and Sanjay was an anxious oncology nurse. On the surface, they had nothing in common. But underneath, they both faced professional stressors that left them lonely and isolated, even when surrounded by others. Everything changed when Piers choked during an otherwise typical commute, and Sanjay saved his life. Sanjay's selflessness set off a wave of kindness that altered each character’s trajectory.

There’s great power in kindness, which we’ll define here as choosing to do something to help others. People who engage in acts of kindness report:

  • Reduced stress and isolation.

  • Increased self-esteem, sense of belonging, mood, and general happiness.

  • Perspective, or a more positive outlook, on things going on in one's own life.

And good news, being kind doesn’t need to cost money or overwhelm your schedule. With kindness, continuous small gestures can add up to a huge difference.

Some ways you can actively engage in kindness include:

  • Volunteer within your community: Whether with a more formal community-based organization or simply helping out a neighbor in need, giving your time will help you feel more connected.

  • Meaningfully Connect: Try calling a friend you haven’t talked to recently or offering a listening ear to someone in need. While chatting, don’t forget to tell them how much you appreciate them. Both of you will get a self-esteem boost from it.

  • Help at Home: Offer to do a few extra chores or errands. You’ll feel proud of setting and completing a goal, and your family member or roommate will appreciate the assistance.

Here’s a snapshot of Piers before using the kindness skills…

Piers was a disillusioned banker who could not voice his true career aspirations. On the train, he sat widespread, taking up as much space as possible and using his physical largess to hide the fact that he felt small. When he noticed those around him, it was with disdain, which increased his loneliness.

Add in the kindness skills…

When Piers choked on the train and was saved by Sanjay, he realized that he needed to show gratitude to others and express thanks. This increased human connection provoked him to honestly share that he was not living out his dream and ask for help trying out a new career as a teacher. A friend suggested that he try out teaching by tutoring a high school student in math, which he did several days a week. These changes left Piers feeling confident, inspired, and hopeful.

To experience the benefits of kindness, try doing one thing for someone else each day. Want to make the experience even more empowering? Start a list and write down the kind things you do, their impact on the other person, and how you feel afterward. And remember, sometimes all you need to do to be kind is smile.


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