For the right person, a simple act can be an encouraging tipping point.
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These are a few of my favorite days:
That is how I begin all of the celebratory posts that I share with my Facebook connections on their birthday. If we’re connected on Facebook, then you’ve likely received one of these positivity posts (unless you don’t have your birthday posted on your profile).
It started simply as a fun way to share a special moment with loved ones I hadn’t seen in a while. I had just recently started to learn how to play the ukulele and I thought how fun it would be to get a personalized happy birthday video on my own birthday. An actual person singing to me specifically. How cool would that be?! With that in mind I started making the occasional video for family, friends, colleagues on their birthday.
What I Thought I Was Doing
The first video went out on February 20, 2020, to a cousin who lives in North Carolina. We only get to see each other every few years or so (if we’re lucky) so she was the perfect person to get this fun little project started. A she loved it. The positivity plan was working!
Over the next month I sent out several more videos and took delight every time someone expressed how surprised and happy they were by the unique gesture. Even though it was a time consuming process to create and send out these videos (mostly because playing the Bb chord on the ukulele was hit or miss for me at the time) it was well worth the effort to know that distant connections were smiling.
During the ensuing weeks, COVID19 began to shut society down and with it even the close-by connections became distant connections. As a result, I began expanding the definition of who constituted a distant connection and was spending more and more time creating and sending these personalized positivity videos.
What I Was Really Doing
Then there came a turning point. On March 20, 2020 I made a video for a woman who teaches at a local school for the deaf. Over the years I had presented a number of positivity workshops for the school, gaining valuable experience working with interpreters and learning a few signs in the process. Since it was her birthday, I took the opportunity to create a special video that included not just the ukulele, but an overlay of me signing the Happy Birthday song! It was a huge step outside of my comfort zone, but I figured it would be well worth the extra effort. Her response to the gesture was beyond my expectations and became a turning point in my understanding of what I was really doing. She said: “Wow! You signed too! Seriously touched beyond words!”
On that day I realized I wasn’t just sending silly videos. I was sending people reminders that they matter, that someone is thinking about them, and that someone cares about them. And that can mean a world of difference for someone. For the right person, it may even be the tipping point that keeps them from giving up.
On that day I realized I had to change my perspective of who I send these videos to. I had to send these videos only to the people that I actually love— the people that make a difference in our world, the people I wish good health and fortune to, the people that I would mourn for if they were to die tomorrow. In other words, I had to send these to everyone.
Fast forward a year later, I’ve sent well over 1,200 personalized happy birthday videos, and the results have been staggering:
“Thank you so much! This made my day! I laughed and enjoyed this as the best gift!”
“This was incredibly sweet to wake up to!”
“You made my day very special.”
“I feel special.”
“Best birthday gift ever! I’m smiling from ear to ear!”
“This made me so happy! You’re magic!”
“This made my morning!”
“This absolutely made my day!”
“Really need the positive vibes today. Thank you!”
“This was so sweet I cried! It’s been a tough year.”
“This is one of the most amazing things that someone has ever taken the time to do!”
“I’m honored and privileged to be the recipient of something so extraordinary.”
“I don’t know how to respond to such a special birthday wish, it’s simply not describable. Much love!”
“That was amazing and very up-lifting.”
“This really made my day better.”
“You just knocked me off my feet with that! I feel so humbled and loved and special!”
“I appreciate the message and song. You gave me more than you know!”
“These have been trying times and this brightened my day immensely.”
“That made me feel so much better than I have in a long time.”
“I just lost a friend this week and this made me smile so much. Thank you for this. You made my day and made me feel wanted in this world.”
These are just a small sampling of the most memorable responses from over the past year. There are 119 responses that I’ve saved because they clearly indicate a deep-seated appreciation for how the gesture had touched them.
Good Things Aren’t Always Easy
It wasn’t always an easy process (here’s a video of a bunch of bloopers from the past year…mostly trying to pronounce names correctly), and it wasn’t always a fun process (some days I simply didn’t feel like playing the ukulele or singing or smiling), but regardless of how I felt, I got up, dressed up, and showed up to the camera to wish everyone a happy birthday, to let them know that at least one person is thinking about them. And that has made a world of difference.
Sure, some people didn’t care. Some people thought it was just a silly video, like I had at first thought. And some people never even saw their video (there are a lot of people on Facebook who aren’t active on Facebook anymore). But for the handful of people that it mattered for most, it has truly made a great difference.
How to Make Time Seem to Slow Down
As the year went on I received several comments from people who said that they were waiting for and hoping for their video. One of my favorite reminders of this sentiment was from a friend who responded: “These are such an incredible ‘moment’ to receive.” This suggested an even deeper meaning to this project that I hadn’t yet considered. That the act of receiving such a gift can become a “moment” in someone’s life, a proverbial bookmark someone can look back on and which—according to philosophers and psychologists—can help to make time seem to slow down.
And my oh my, how we could use a little slow down in this ever-increasing speed-up world.
A Lost Opportunity
Even in our hyper-connected world, it’s all too easy to let years slip by without even noticing. For example, it’s been over ten years since I’ve spoken to my best friend from middle school. Sure, you might say, “Who’s still friends with their friends from middle school?” Fair point. But my point is that our last conversation went something like this:
Friend: “I’m giving up on life.”
Me: “Why would you want to do a thing like give up on life? It is all that we truly have in this world...nothing else.”
Friend: “I don’t know man, I can’t explain it in a way you would understand.”
Me: “Try me.”
And that was the last time we spoke. Over ten years ago. No follow up. No checking in. We’ve been connected on social media the whole time but our paths never crossed, and his posts were too negative to engage with so they soon faded from the algorithms. We simply lost touch.
This past August I found out that he had died back in May. He had died three months earlier and I was only just then finding out about it. How could this be? Not a word about it for three months. And I still have no idea how or why it happened. Just that he’s gone.
His birthday is in March. March 6. Fourteen days before I started making videos for everyone to let them know that they matter, that someone is thinking about them, and that someone cares about them. I never got to deliver this most important and most encouraging message. I don’t know the events surrounding his death, but considering our last conversation from a decade earlier, I can imagine that an encouraging word from a friend while he was here would have made an important difference. Because for the right person, such a message may be the tipping point that keeps them from giving up.
It’s been a crazy year for all of us, and though I gave myself a project that makes my days even more hectic, I’m more than okay with the added item on my to-do list.
In the grand scheme does any of this really matter anyway? Not really. In the grand scheme we’re nothing but specks of dust momentary assembled together forming temporary memories that will fade away forever as eternity ravages on. But to each and every one of us, these seemingly small and seemingly insignificant gestures matter profoundly, in more ways than we could ever image.
I’m telling you this not to encourage you to learn how to play the ukulele or to edit videos or to become more active on social media. But I am telling you this to encourage you to find your own unique way to let others know that you care, that you’re thinking about them, and that they matter. Everyone is fighting some kind of battle, a battle that we may never know anything about, because it’s the private battles we fight silently and to ourselves. Whatever you do to make a connection with others, know that for the right person, your efforts will mean the world to them—maybe even the tipping point that keeps them from giving up.
In the meantime, my wish for you is that every day may be Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, and your Birthday, so you’ll always have abundant Love and Gratitude for Life.
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Jonas Cain facilitates positive change initiatives for emerging leaders and their influencers.