It’s a simple statement with a powerful impact. Community over competition. There are so many areas of life where I see people with similar goals and values acting as if they are on opposing teams. Parents openly and harshly judge others for simple differences in parenting. Organizations fight against each other for funding. Political leaders get caught up in petty grudges. That negativity seeps through and becomes part of the fabric of our community. And I don’t want that.
That’s why we need initiatives like Project Nice List. Have you heard about this? It’s a local movement to spread kindness during the holiday season. Each day, from November 24 to December 24, a challenge is posted on social media. People are reminded of simple ways to show they care about their friends, family, neighbours, colleagues, and strangers. Local charity events are shared, along with ideas on how to give without opening your wallet. Challenges so far include asking people to share heartfelt compliments, to hand out candy canes or other sweet treats, to be courteous at public events, and to handwrite a holiday card.
Full disclosure: I’m one of the two people behind Project Nice List. My friend Natalie Davison and I started working together on the idea this fall and we’ve been blown away by just how excited people are about it. Our focus was on showcasing the best of the Greater Moncton Area; highlighting all the fabulous local charity events that take place every Christmas season and encouraging our neighbours and colleagues to show our community’s true spirit by supporting these efforts. We talked a lot about how we can all work together to build on the foundations that exist here already. We wanted to help spread the word about ongoing fundraisers, without becoming another voice asking people to give money. We talked about the value in seeing your friends and family giving back to the community. We knew that challenging each other each day to do all the nice things we already thought about could snowball into a movement. Most of all, we knew we wanted to combat the negativity in the world with good old fashioned kindness and caring at the most basic level.
There is research – and common sense – that shows sharing negative thoughts hurts us all, that complaining leads to more complaining. Your brain, despite all its power, is lazy. It likes to repeat behaviours and makes short cuts to improve your efficiency, which means if you choose negative comments over positive ones, you’ll become better and better at being negative. A study from Stanford University shows complaining can also diminish your hippocampus, the part of your brain that helps with problem solving. Know what else attacks your hippocampus? Alzheimer’s. Complaining also causes your body to release cortisol, which can kick your blood pressure and blood sugar into high gear. That means being negative can feed into high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and more.
Lots of people make New Year’s resolutions to focus on making healthier choices. Let’s get a head start by focusing our thoughts on being positive and grateful. I don’t expect people to always be happy or to get along all the time. We need to share our differences in opinion, our various parenting styles, our individual approaches to life. But that doesn’t mean we need to be harsh and hurtful. We don’t need to fill our hearts and minds, and therefore our community, with negativity. Being positive doesn’t mean sticking your head in the sand about problems and concerns. Being positive means tackling these challenges head on with hope and with ideas – and sometimes with a little fun.