The other day, after having a great conversation about the value of empathy and kindness, I found myself feeling not very kind.

I was waiting to turn into the Starbucks drive-through, which is my 2020 version of “going out for a drink,” when a woman in a dark blue Jeep sharply turned in front of me, forcing me to slam on my breaks to avoid hitting her. Although I didn’t honk or flip her off, I sat behind her in the drive-through staring at her license plate wondering who raised such an animal.

I tried to understand why on earth she’d risk both of our lives for a cup of coffee—and then I actually agreed that maybe coffee was a valid excuse.

As the adrenaline faded, I decided it was better to just let it go given everyone was safe. Plus, there were certainly more important things taking up emotional real estate.

She collected her order and pulled away. Good riddance, I thought. But when I got to the window, my entire order had been taken care of. The barista let me know that the woman in front of me was incredibly sorry for cutting me off and was happy to pick up my bill.

In the blink of an eye, all of my assumptions about this person changed. As if now, knowing that she felt the impact of cutting me off, I could easily see she was a good person.

Funny how a genuine apology is kryptonite to my judgy inner voice.

I’ve been fascinated this year with the concept of kindness. How being kind shifts things, how it makes us feel better, and how contagious it is for those who are on the receiving end of that kindness.

And how once you’ve outlawed hugs, handshakes and in-person faces full of smiles, it feels harder than ever to be kind.

It’s been a year full of bad news and sadness. We’re constantly reading headlines that make us feel like we’re in survival mode. The stress that comes with that is real and at times, quite dark.

However, those headlines usually leave out an important part of the story. Yes, this year has been challenging and dark — but there’s also been a heck of a lot of good. People have come together in ways we haven’t seen before. Thinking about another human and doing something helpful or thoughtful can make you feel like a million bucks. It’s hard to feel scared, stressed or depressed when you know you just brightened someone’s day. Kindness is one hell of a drug.

Santa is coming!

My fascination with kindness has in turn, affected many of my holiday traditions. This year, I’ve changed up my holiday to-do list and made a commitment to “play Santa.” Our holiday season will look a little different, but in my house, we’re focusing on spreading joy in one way or another.

Here’s what we’re planning:

Go big with the small

Hunt for lots of treats, gifts and goodies from our local entrepreneurs either online or for pickup. I love knowing that with each purchase, I’m helping one frustrated business owner survive. Plus, I try to make sure I include a business card with each item to help spread the word.

Start up the sleigh

Make a list of nearby friends and family we’d love to see and put together goodie bags to drop off around Christmas. Maybe it’s not the same as an in-person visit, but I know dropping by their homes and leaving a little surprise package on their doorstep will make me feel like a real-life Mrs. Clause. (Note: healthcare workers deserve a BIG surprise package!)

Send a smile

Make cards and care packages for seniors. A lovely lady in my community has been leading this effort and it’s caught on like wildfire. Not only are kids doing it in school, but our family has made some packages as well. It’s obviously not the same as a visit but I have no doubt my daughter’s big shaky “Merry Christmas” letters will put a smile on someone’s face. 

Public displays of affection

These days, the real version of this is a no-no but there’s a COVID-safe virtual way to spread the love. Around the holidays, I often leave peers and partners an unsolicited LinkedIn recommendation reminding them how much I value and appreciate the great work they do. It’s the perfect gift for those talented people who have been laid off due to the pandemic and might be hunting for work. 

It’s complicated (not)

Stop my midnight social media scrolling long enough to write a few referrals for great people who’ve impacted my life this year. Whether it’s the handyman who helped fix that noisy furnace or the local mirror company that helped you turn your closet into a COVID home gym, brag about them! It makes their day and helps them acquire new customers.

Big tipper

Consider leaving an extra big tip for the folks who cut your hair or deliver your next take-out meal. We know that these people have been risking their health, wearing masks every day and dealing with customers who are not always feeling kind. Plus, so many of them have lost massive amounts of income this year.

Cheerful chatter

Share extra kind words with those we come into contact with over the phone or in passing. I imagine being a cashier would be so much more joyful if each customer smiled, thanked them for their service and wished them a heartfelt holiday. 

These are the things I’m doing to make this holiday season extra joyful for anyone I can. What does your list look like? I’d love to hear your ideas!

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