A fist bump.
Being alone at the gym is unlike being alone anywhere else. For one thing, it’s an oddly intimate setting for interacting with strangers. I mean, when’s the last time you all stripped down and got sweaty while singing to yourself on the subway? Or at church? Or the mall? (Don’t answer that.) But another factor is how much, well, potential for failure there is. Oh sure, there’s no such thing as “failing” at exercise (unless you’re counting the “to failure” admonition at the end of your weight set) and we’re all glad that we’re there doing anything rather than sitting at home eating Nutella out of the jar. But there are those weird moments where you go to do something and it just… doesn’t work the way you’d hoped it would. If you’ve got a friend there to laugh with you it’s not so hard to shrug off but if you’re alone, say, dangling helplessly from the chin-up bar like a deranged sloth who forgot it has feet, then it gets kinda embarrassing.
Yep, so there I was* on Saturday, trying my darndest to get my chin over that stupid bar. Of course I’d waited until the end of my workout when my muscles were nice and tired. And of course I’d waited to workout at all until the absolute most crowded hour of the day. But I haven’t done pull-ups in a long time and I wanted to make sure I still could. So I put on my ROAR face and jumped up and… nope. Couldn’t do it. I fell back down, defeated. I could feel the stare of the man behind me waiting to use the cable machine that the chin-up bar was attached to. I jumped up again, this time with an under-hand grip – the “easy” chin-up!
Want to know what a smack-down from the universe feels like? Gravity.
At that point, my face was beet red – both from exertion and embarrassment. Okay, and frustration. Not even one liiiitle pull-up? Have I really regressed that far? Ignoring the huffing of Mr. Impatient (seriously I waited 10 minutes for him to finish his prior sets and he can’t wait one minute for me to finish publicly humiliating myself?), I jumped one last time. Over-hand grip. Grunting. Frog-kicking. Wiggling. And I did it! My chin was up and over! I hung there for a few seconds in celebration before hopping down. Yeah, I’ve lost a lot of my fitness level since moving here but at least I got in one kinda-sorta pull-up! It was something.
As I gathered up my stuff and turned to walk away, I saw a dude walking toward me. He was one of your typical shaved-head weight-belted super-muscled bodybuilder guys and so when he held his fist out toward me, my first instinct was to duck. But as he grinned at me I realized what he was doing! He gave me a fist bump! You guys, I GOT BRO-FIVED!!!
Even now, writing about it, I don’t know which made me happier – the eked out pull-up or the acknowledgement of it by someone else.
A sympathetic nod.
Warehouse shopping is its own particular hell but add four antsy-pantsy-out-of-school kids? On the day before Thanksgiving? You just earned a one-way ticket to the sanitorium, do not pass go, do not collect 17 sample cups! Yet, thanks to a mad rush of work I had to get done last week, I ended up last-minute shopping. Like everyone else in the Denver metropolitan area. And my kids were doing their level best to act like escaped zoo monkeys. I was tired, they were tired and I know everyone around me was tired of hearing them shriek and fight.
So when I rounded the corner by the protein bars and maxi pads (Costco, you weirdo) and a woman touched me on the shoulder, I braced myself for a probably-deserved lecture. (True story: The louder my kids get, the quieter I get. People often think I’m not disciplining them and am just ignoring their antics… and sometimes I am. But usually I’m trying! When I whisper in their ears – that’s how they know mom’s really mad. Anyhow.) But instead of letting me have it, she smiled sympathetically and nodded at my kids.
“I used to shop with four little ones. And now they’re all grown. Hang in there, hon.” And with that, she was gone down the aisle with the jumbo bottles of fruit-flavored fish oil gummies (Costco, you gross weirdo).
I smiled all the way to the cash register.
The setting is yet again a retail venue, shortly before Thanksgiving. I am a consummate procrastinator. But this time I was looking for legwarmers. Yes, they’re back in style and no, I’m not wearing them with a leotard and off-the-shoulder sweatshirt. I need them for boot liners thank you very much.
But they were not by the socks where logic would dictate they would be so I approached the nearest Target associate and asked, “Where might I find the legwarmers?”
He gave me a side-eye like I have never seen before replying, “In the 80’s!”
And with that he became my favorite person of the day.
She was my last interview (of 8!) of the day. I’d been busting my butt to get all my articles wrapped up so I could enjoy Thanksgiving with my family in peace so I’m afraid that I was all business from the second I dialed up her east-coast-and-therefore-already-late-in-the-day number. “I know you’re super busy,” I started. Which I’m sure was true. She is a doctor of some renown. “And I really appreciate your time so I’ll just get down to the questions…”
By skipping all the niceties, I thought I was being nice.
She played along, gamely answering all my questions until I’d gotten everything I needed. But at the end of the conversation she showed me how important it is to be nice, always. As I started to thank her and say good-bye, she interrupted me to ask, “Is there anything I can do to help YOU today? You know, not for your job but in any way at all?”
Completely taken aback, I answered intelligently, “uhhhh…”
She explained, “My goal in life is to help everyone I come across feel a little better. Need a smile? I know some good jokes! Or I could give you a phone hug! Anything you need!”
And while I didn’t take her up on either, just her thoughtfulness totally made my day. Here she was doing me a favor by agreeing to an interview at the very last minute and yet she wanted to know how she could make my life a little easier?? How cool would it be if every medical professional had that same attitude? Or every person? Or… me?
A spark of an idea.
‘Tis the season to be jolly! – you might have heard. And the Christmas season is my absolute favorite time of year. Usually. But being depressed around the holidays elevates fun-sucking into a whole new level of bleh. So I figured I can either go all Scrooge McDuck (I prefer duck ghosts to human ones) or I can do something to feel better. And you know what is one of the most effective ways to help lift depression? Helping other people! It’s backed by research and everything.
Dear Baby Jesus, we got your back. Now fill us in on that whole walking on water thing. Love, Science.
It turns out that doing “positive activity interventions” is as effective for treating low-to-moderate depression as medication – geek speak for “do good, feel good”. Sonja Lyubomirsky, lead researcher for one 2012 study on the subject wrote, “The most significant feature of depression is the absence of positive emotion — just a feeling of nothing, of emptiness.” She adds that the main point of the intervention then is to increase positive feelings. She adds, “They seem really trivial. They seem like, what’s the big deal, you feel good for 10 minutes. But for a depressed person, they aren’t trivial at all. Depressed individuals need to increase positive emotions in their life, even a minute here and there.”
Sometimes science just confirms what we already know about life – every time I do an act of service I get so giddy I wonder why I don’t do it more often – but it’s nice to have the numbers to back it up too.
But here’s the thing about depression: I know what I need to do to feel better but everything just feels so hard. And while I am feeling somewhat more cheery than I was a month ago, it’s still very much a struggle to keep in the game of everyday life. How am I supposed to help other people when I can barely convince myself to get out of bed in the morning?
Yet as I reflected on the wonderful people I’d encountered this past week – yes, all four of those experiences happened in about a week! I live a blessed life – I realized two things:
1. I don’t have it in me to do anything grand right now. I just don’t.
2. Maybe I don’t have to do anything grand.
It can be so easy to think that because we can’t do Habitat for Humanity or donate $500 to the radio wish-a-thon or make 13 dozen artfully decorated cookie plates for all our friends, that we can’t do anything. And this feeling of uselessness quickly spirals into depression which, if you’ve been taking notes, is exactly what I’m trying to avoid. But these four people – the weightlifter, the fellow mother, the Target jokester and the kind doctor – showed me how simple it can be to help someone else. It really is the little things in life! They helped me realize that it’s so much better to give a little than to get overwhelmed trying to do something big and end up giving nothing.
But what can you give when you feel like you have nothing left to give?
Because I love lists and goals I came up with 12 little things I can do to give a boost to someone else. And as I looked over the list, I wondered if any of you might like to do them with me too? Even if you’re not depressed, they’ll still make you happier;) Before anyone freaks out (like I just did, in my head) I’m keeping this super simple. Do-gooding for Dummies. I’m going to focus on just one thing a day – and probably not every day because there’s a little rebellious part of me that is like “you can’t force me to like this!” even though it’s just me forcing myself. Anyhow each item is free, takes less than 5 minutes and doesn’t involve any circus antics or tutus. I promise! Yet it’s guaranteed to make someone else smile (and probably yourself too)! So I’m going to post them here when I do them and I hope that you guys will join in and tell me what you did and the reaction you got in the comments. This way we can spread the positivity all over the place! Make a big, sticky, positive mess!
For Day One of Operation Give A Little: Give a sincere compliment to someone. If you want to really stretch, give a compliment to someone whom you wouldn’t usually compliment. It’s pretty easy to find something nice to say to your kids or significant other. (Although now that I type that, perhaps sometimes it isn’t?) And it’s weird but sometimes compliments mean more to us when they come from strangers or acquaintances or other people who don’t “have to” like us. For instance, the man at the gym didn’t have to do anything when I did my pull-up. Convention required absolutely nothing of him. But he did, which ended up meaning so much to me precisely because he didn’t have to. So look for a coworker, a neighbor, a teacher, a service worker – anyone who looks like they could use a boost and give them a compliment. Tell them you love their cute sweater or how efficiently they do their job or how you appreciate the little extra swirl in your cappuccino. It doesn’t have to be much!
For me, today, I picked someone new at church that I’d never met and told her how much I loved her sparkly manicure. It sparked a lovely conversation about where she was from, why she was here and how she had been so worried that no one would notice her (and also worried that someone would!). It ended up with both of us smiling – I think more than either of us had expected to today. In fact, I’m smiling all over again now just remembering it. Not only did I get some cool mani ideas but now neither one of us ever has to worry about sitting alone.
Now your turn! Go forth a compliment! And then let me know what happens!! (If you get stuck go check out EmergencyCompliment.com for some useful and lots of hilarious ideas!) Or just tell me a little story about someone who did a little kindness for you – I love these stories!
*Yep, I went to a gym. My husband and I got a pass to the local community rec center. It doesn’t have much in the way of weights or fitness equipment but it has a crazy awesome pool that the kids love and it’s definitely more friendly and welcoming than my old gym! I’ve still been mostly working out at home or running with friends but I’m slowly warming up to the rec center. I’m hopeful.