Since early summer, CultureMap has been partnering with Opt For Optimism by Frost Bank to spread generosity and give back locally. You might have noticed a few of these efforts, such as the Charity Guide, an editorial series that shines a spotlight on those making a difference, and pop-up events where unsuspecting folks get their day brightened with free swag and pre-loaded cash cards from Frost so they can pay it forward (follow CultureMap's Instagram for hints about the next event).
But for the past month, Frost has been encouraging even more community involvement and personal happiness through its 30-Day Optimism Challenge. Folks all across the country signed up to complete daily small gestures — think buying a cup of coffee for a stranger or thanking a mentor for their help.
These guided acts were delivered to inboxes daily and posted on the challenge's Facebook page, where a community of cheerful, hopeful people sprang up, eager to discuss their experiences.
What was doing the challenge like? Here are some of the things we learned:
An act of generosity takes no time at all
Many of the tasks took only a few minutes to complete, but their effect lasted much longer. The first day's instruction was to write down five things you're grateful for and post the list somewhere you'd see it every day. Other quick and easy challenges included introducing yourself to a neighbor you've never met (co-workers count, too!), scheduling dinner with someone you haven't caught up with in a while, and celebrating someone other than yourself on social media. All took less than five minutes but brought with them a boost in mood.
Money is nice, but it isn't everything
Not everything in life is free, and sometimes spending a bit of money on someone else delivers a warm, happy glow. It was gratifying to surprise someone with flowers, while leaving an extra-large tip surely brightened a server's day. One challenge was to take someone you wanted to know better to lunch — an ideal networking opportunity. And even if you give to charity regularly, donating to a fundraising campaign might have introduced you to a cause or business with which you were previously unfamiliar.
Take time to stop and think
Reflection was big, as several challenges focused on writing down goals and potential solutions to problems. What was one thing you could do to improve your emotional, physical, or financial health? What went well that day? Taking a beat and really considering these "big questions" that normally get brushed aside in the hustle and bustle of daily life was refreshing.
Sometimes it's what you don't do
A couple of challenges were about refraining from an activity: stay off social media for the day, for example, or leave your phone behind while you head out on a walk. Sounds easy — but it wasn't. Tech addiction is real, but having a purpose in putting down your phone made it easier to let go ... at least for a little while.
Things that take a while are extremely worth it
Some of the "bigger" challenges did require an investment of time, and some — to be honest — were just plain not fun. Tidying up a space before the day was out meant tackling a buried desk or overstuffed closet, but it was worth it 10 days later when the instruction was to donate unused items. Doing a favor for someone without their asking and cleaning up a mess you didn't make of course depended on the situation, but they were done in the spirit of making life easier for someone else. "It's called marriage," one participant joked.
You can still join the Frost 30-Day Optimism Challenge and receive the daily instructions by email. Be sure to tag CultureMap and use the hashtag #frostitforward when you're spreading optimism — you might be rewarded with things like exercise class passes and tickets to ACL Festival.