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I recently had an interesting conversation with my 13-year-old son Sam. We talked about the recent heat wave and I told him about some rude drivers I’d noticed earlier that day. In return, he told me that when he was in elementary school, his class took regular field trips on foot. While they were walking they played a game called “sweet or sour.” The rules were simple. The students acted out beeping to ask drivers to honk their horns. If a driver beeped they were sweet, and if they didn’t they were sour. Whoever got the most sweet drivers won. On one field trip a driver, an older woman, showed them her middle finger instead of honking her horn in response to their gestures. “We labeled her ‘super sour’,” my son said, which made the two of us burst into fits of laughter. “And then,” he went on, “our teachers told us no more of that game.” More laughter.
Later Sam asked, “Seriously, who does that to a group of elementary students?” I didn’t have an answer. My hope is that this person was just having a very bad day, experienced some temporary confusion over the kids’ actions, or lost control over her fingers for a few seconds. It is safe to assume, though, that she was not happy, joyful, or calm.
So the day continued. We stopped for groceries, and the normally cheerful staff was sullen and quiet. “Sour,” Sam said. Another customer spilled her drink on the checkout area behind us. “I think it’s the weather,” the clerk said with a deadpan expression as she cleaned it up. “Sour,” Sam said. When we got home, my youngest son, who wasn’t feeling well, was camped out on the couch watching Burn Notice. The main character in the show blew up the villain’s car. “Super sour,” Sam and I said in unison, laughing again.
Since that conversation, I have asked myself, “Am I sweet or sour?” The answer is simply, “both.” I am not perfect, by any means. I often drop off my children for school when I feel grumpy and half-awake. It’s hard to talk some mornings. Last night, after a long and gruelling day at work, I felt like I had no words or patience. I wanted to do something fun and interactive with my family, but rather I ended up eating take-out, watching television, and reading a book while my kids played in the pool.
But I try my best to be a person of integrity and kindness. Science tells us that the happiest people do things to lift other people up and thereby improve their own and others’ experience. By doing things for others, we help ourselves too. So I try to be kind when I can. I make small talk and smile in the elevator every morning. I make a point to hug my children daily and tell my spouse I love him. I say good morning to my co-workers. I let people go before me in line. I try to hold happiness instead of misery in my heart. When sour thoughts like, “Does anyone else try to be nice?” creep into my mind, I remind myself that I’m doing this for me.
The small kindnesses add up. They make me feel better, which in turn makes the world better for others with whom I spend my time. And hopefully, when I look back at the end of the day, I can say I’ve been more sweet than sour.
Cindy Nichols Anderson, Ph.D., ABPP,
Author Bio – Cindy is a Child Psychologist. Her blog can be found Here.