Praise for the benefits of gratitude has become ubiquitous in the worlds of positive psychology and new-age spirituality. Time and again, writers encourage us to make gratitude lists or keep gratitude journals on a regular, even daily basis. While it sounds ungrateful to buck against gratitude, I still find myself pausing over the implications, and wondering how we can do better and be kinder than mere gratitude.
At the root of the issue, gratitude troubles me, because when we are grateful, we think of ourselves as the recipient of some goodness that comes to us either from the amorphous forces of “the Universe” or from the direct agency of specific people in our lives. Gratitude practices, by definition, leave us thinking in self-centered ways. They put us at risk of becoming “gratitude narcissists” if we don’t at the same time couple them with kindness practices.
So, rather than just taking inventory of what we are grateful for, let’s also take inventory of what we have done to improve other lives and the world around us. On the model of gratitude journals, let’s take on a daily practice of listing three things we did each day to make the world a better place. We can start a kindness journal to take stock of our daily gestures of empathy and compassion, small-scale and large-scale. We can list the kind things we do, and the kind impacts we intended with those actions.
Just as gratitude practices can make us more mindful of good things that come from the world, kindness practices can make us more accountable for the good things we can do in the world. They help us gently shift our mindset from being the center of a universe to being an agent of kindness who participates in that universe with deliberate responsibility to other beings. And by linking our actions to their outcomes, these practices also make us more effective as agents of kind outcomes.
If you’re willing to exercise your own kindness practice with mindful intent, too, feel free to download this Kindness Communication journal template, or create your own.