Gretchen Rubin's latest happiness tweak is throwing away someone else's trash.
I get the whole thing about doing something small for someone else. And not just to "boost your self-esteem." The application with which I am most familiar is related to stress reduction. It is said, and I have experienced, that the act of slowing yourself down by letting someone go ahead of you in traffic, or in the checkout line--especially when you are feeling rushed and short on time--creates the perception of more time. It works. It really does.
Not incidental is the positive feedback that generally attends such public generosity--although occasionally the response is more like "What are you? Nuts?" And you can end up feeling a little sheepish.
But the kind of trash that troubles me most in my own environment, I think of as "life trash." In this category are undone tasks, unfinished projects, and unfulfilled dreams. It strikes me as a particularly appealing kindness--one I'd love to be on the receiving end of--to help another dispose of detritus of this sort.
As a mom for more than half my life now, I am in a great position to help out in this way. Living with two young adult men, I find myself frequently hip-deep in refuse, life- and plain old. But as a mom, I have learned--not without pain and stumbling, on my part and theirs--that it isn't always a purely good thing to rush into the breach without summons.
Yet another opportunity to practice that all-purpose virtue--BALANCE.
But it does feel really good to magnanimously offer to move a load of wash to the dryer for one of my roomies. Or to put gas in the car when they're running late. Or to post a letter they forgot to send. And helping them to experience life as a bit more doable helps me to believe that I can manage, too. But it's not so much fun if they begin to rely on my rescue. And if they ask, it had better be done nicely. I don't do demands from this crew.
And just for the record, if someone offers to do the dishes I haven't gotten to, I'm taking it.