Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Case for Thinking Small

by Kent Noble

We’re Americans—and we love to think big! Big ideas, big goals, big ambitions. That relentless drive and motivation are close to the core of our identity. You could almost say those traits are  embedded in our national DNA. 

Talk to any immigrant who has struggled to reach our shores and, through ambition and hard work, carved out his or her own version of the American Dream. They’ll tell you the freedom to pursue big goals is one reason they struggled so hard to get here. 

So, perhaps you, too, are a big thinker. If so, let me ask you a question: do you ever take the time to think small? That may not sound very productive or rewarding. But when you think about it, little things can make your day, or ruin it. They can even alter the course of your life.         

Each day we live is punctuated by many small acts. Some we initiate; others, we experience. Think of the stranger who smiles and holds the door for you, or the co-worker who takes the time to give you a sincere compliment, or the neighbor who drops by to give you some home-grown tomatoes.  
Whether you’re on the giving or the receiving end of such behavior, it elevates your mood. Acts of kindness and helping can even improve your health; scientific studies have found that they tend to reduce stress responses and boost your immune system. On the other hand, witnessing or experiencing negative acts releases stress hormones, or cortisols, triggering a fight-or-flight response that accelerates heart rates and breathing.

One study covering 30 years found that those who did volunteer work were significantly less likely to suffer a major illness than those who didn’t. Altruistic deeds also have a documented ripple effect. Research shows that when we see someone doing a good deed, we ourselves are more likely to help others. With that in mind, we at the Center for Cowboy Ethics recently introduced a wallet card designed expressly to acknowledge and honor positive deeds you might witness (available on our website).

As for the life-changing potential of small, positive acts--I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned from experience that better things happen when I’m in a positive frame of mind. It makes sense to me that the more good feelings you project, the more interest and opportunities you will attract from others. 

Bottom line, if we take the time for positive small acts, and encourage others to do the same, it’s a win all around. So the next time you’re feeling unhappy or put upon, the best tonic might be to perform one or two small acts that bring a ray of sunlight into someone else’s day. As Booker T. Washington said, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”