It’s a wild time, but kindness and gratitude can help


We talk to Maya Enista Smith, Executive Director of Born This Way Foundation, about ideas for spreading kindness and showing gratitude virtually, about allowing for a roller coaster of feelings right now and about the “anti-aging” properties of caring for others.

Maya Enista Smith is a master at finding creative, thoughtful ways to show kindness and gratitude.

She is the Executive Director of Born This Way Foundation, founded in 2012 by Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, with the mission of nurturing a kinder, braver world. Not only is kindness literally her job, but Maya is a master of the handwritten thank you note and the thoughtful pep talk, so who better to call for ideas on how to spread kindness virtually during this time we can’t be together?

Born This Way Foundation is working hard to break the stigma around mental health, as is Starbucks. May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Maya prefaced our conversation with a few reminders for people:

  • However you are feeling and whatever you are doing to cope with the world right now is OK. Some days you may feel like going for a run or planting a garden, and other days taking a shower could be considered a win.
  • You are not alone. Safely physical distancing does not have to mean distancing emotionally from each other, so look for other ways to connect.
  • Be sure to reach out, if you are struggling or need help.

“I would never in my wildest dreams have thought we’d be in this situation,” Maya said, from her home in Lafayette, Calif. “But this confluence of events presents us such an unprecedented opportunity to focus on, to fund, to amplify, to support mental health (and) the importance of building a culture where we’re as proactive about building our mental health as we are in caring for our physical health.”

For Maya, maintaining a practice of spreading kindness and sharing gratitude goes hand-in-hand with her physical and mental health.

“There are tangible physical and mental benefits to kindness and gratitude. It slows your heart rate down, it helps you breathe better, it reduces stress and anxiety,” she said. “When I give speeches, I sometimes joke that I’m actually 85 because kindness has anti-aging properties, like, on the cellular level.”

Some of Mayas go-to ideas for spreading kindness and gratitude virtually right now:

  1. Write thank you cards. Take the time to thank people you know – family, friends, teachers, mail carriers, delivery drivers, front-line workers – or even people you don’t know.
  2. Adopt an elderly pen pal. It’s a particularly isolating and vulnerable time for the elderly, especially those currently isolated from their loved ones in long-term care facilities. Volunteers for Love for the Elderly send cards and letters to help support and embrace seniors and brighten their days.
  3. Be an anchor. Maya has been donating to Find Your Anchor, a suicide awareness and prevention organization that sends little, blue boxes with handwritten, personalized notes to those who are struggling.
  4. Join Operation Gratitude. Write letters of thanks to first responders, health care workers and military personnel or sign up for some virtual volunteerism.

Jennifer Warnick