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Relationships - August 2013

It could be you ....

 

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet as we pass our half-way markers. 

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.



Kindness is Contagious

Former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela recently celebrated his 95th birthday and on that day, all South Africans were encouraged to spend 67 minutes of their time in the service of others, to mark the 67 years of Mandela's public service. Other than the more obvious photo-opportunity footage of Mandela's family trying to dig a garden or handing out food to children, many South Africans spent time carrying out acts of kindness. People gave up their lunch-breaks to go and read to children, or shop for and elderly neighbour, or made time in their evening to plant vegetables for the infirm.

During the heatwave here in the UK we have been urged to check on elderly or sick neighbours, or those have very young family. Sometimes a friendly face and the offer of a cooling drink can change the day for someone feeling overwhelmed by the heat.

Kindness has a two-way benefit, it not only gives the recipient a feeling of being cared for, but creates a feeling of well-being in the giver as well, thanks to the release of the feel-good hormone oxytocin into the bloodstream. So not only does it benefit the recipient on a practical level, it enhances their and the giver's positive outlook. The immediate result is often to raise a smile or touch the emotions in another person.

Recently I have been on the receiving end of kindness from others while my husband was in hospital recovering from an accident which happened while he and our chunky, 11month old retriever puppy were climbing some steps. A council worker, going about his normal duties had taken both man and dog by surprise as he suddenly appeared at the top of the steps, terrifying the pup who dashed back down, dragging my husband with him. The sight of a large bearded man wearing a reflective jacket was too much for a skittish puppy. Although the man did ask my husband, an elderly man, if he was 'ok' and the affirmative answer came automatically through the rush of adrenalin which blocks a person's pain at such times, I was surprised that he didn't stay with him until help came. That to me would have been kind. 

Nevertheless, once we were in the medical loop, we were met with kindness and concern at every step, from ambulance to emergency room staff, ward nurses and that rare species, hospital doctors.  Neighbours were quick to call and offer help, driving me to the hospital, shopping and walking the dog.  I find all such kindness reassuring and I am grateful for every kind offer.

But kindness can be found in the youngest of us. My 8 year old grandson surprised me a few weeks ago by volunteering to chop vegetables for the meal I was preparing and set the table. This was rounded off by a big hug and an invitation to watch his treasured cricket dvd. My 15 month old grandaughter has started to hug her cuddly toys with a big 'Aaah', and will then come and do the same for me. She has learnt to share affection. I say 'learnt', though I am not sure kindness can be taught. She has become aware, like my grandson, of how kindness is shown by those around her, and she is mirroring that behaviour. I do feel that it could be talked about more though. For parents and teachers to discuss with children what kindness is, and how they practice it daily is an enormous gift in itself. Those children will find that practice will come easily to them throughout life.

As the Laterlife generation we can talk about it with our grandchildren and ask their opinion on what makes a kind act, raising their awareness. We can, and should, tell them when we see them demonstrate kindness, and if we are the recipients, tell them how it makes us feel and thank them.

Being good to others is a key part of many religions and most human ways of life. It is not always easy to be good to another, holding back the knowledge that you are very busy yet standing and talking with a lonely person for just a few minutes might be stressful, but with hindsight, the day is more worthwhile because you made time for someone else. It becomes a kind of deferred pleasure.

The life we live today makes deeds of kindness less easy to enact, as it seems we are as busy in our leisure time and retirement as we are in our working lives. It remains a mystery how time was made in everyone's life to be a good neighbour and caring citizen in the time before it was 'essential' to have so-called labour-saving devices; an automatic washing machine (my mother said 'Your dad's got one – me'), dishwasher, car, satellite tv, mobile phones, computer and internet. Where did people find time? My husband maintains that all these things have made life more pressured rather than less. I must be getting old now as I can see his point.

Yet even the internet now has sites which promote this virtue, such as www.randomactsofkindness.org or www.actionforhappiness.org and our little town magazine, expertly funded and published by the local branch of the Lions, itself an organisation which raises funds for worthy causes, runs a monthly town award in which anyone can nominate a person known to have devoted time to the needs of others. In the last few months Lions have awarded dinner at a local restaurant to a postman, who keeps a close eye on the well-being of the vulnerable people on his round, and the person who spends endless hours beautifying the town's scruffier areas by getting teams to plant orchards.

Whether it is a countrywide act as in South Africa, a town deed, an ambulance driver, or that of a neighbour or tiny child, kindness enhances all our lives and is a golden glue to hold communities together.  


You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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