“Take time to heal. Take time for yourself.” These were the words written on the coffee mug outside my apartment door I had just received from a stranger, years ago.
It was one of the worst times of my life. One month prior, I had left an abusive marriage and was on my own with my six-year-old – just having filed for divorce. My furniture from donations had just arrived. It was a cold, Saturday evening in December, close to Christmas.
I opened the gift bag, carefully opening the cardboard wrapping around the coffee mug first. In the box were some new kitchen rags, a few cookbooks, and the mug. I also found a note that read:
“I hope this small gift helps. Everything will be okay. Merry Christmas.”
I had only asked for cookbooks on Craig’s list. I had just left an abusive situation with only the clothes on my back, my laptop, some photo albums, and my daughter’s clothes. I didn’t have extra money and about half of what I had was donated by people who knew that giving was the essence of a good life.
The stranger took it upon herself to give me more than I had asked for. I’m not referring to the kitchen rags or the coffee mug. I am talking about something much more valuable – hope.
Hope is needed these days, isn’t it?
I can’t help but reiterate the obvious: this world is very troubled. But, it needs to be repeated, over and over so people don’t forget and do something every day that contributes to alleviating our troubles. One way to help the destructive path we are headed down is to give, as unimaginative as that sounds.
It seems almost inauthentic to write about giving to others when so many of us are at our wit’s end. We are desperately trying to survive in this perilous world one day at a time. People are losing their minds during these difficult times not knowing whether their job will still be there next month, whether they will contract Covid-19, much less whether the planet will even be here in ten years while billionaires are skyrocketing themselves to the edges of space. It’s a scary time, and it’s understandable to be afraid or anxious.
HOPE is needed. Giving is especially needed now.
Giving creates a ripple effect. It doesn’t stop with the person you give to – it spreads and brings happiness to others. It spreads like a weed. And you know what? It is still needed especially when it appears everything is falling apart.
Your act of giving might change someone’s life. It literally might. I know this entire article might be a cliche and you might be thinking, “I already know that I should give.” But, I believe it needs repeating – stick with me.
“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” – Maya Angelou
What is Giving?
To be clear, giving is an act done to help alleviate the sufferings of others in one way or another. It is providing something to someone else without the need or expectation of personal gain (although, as the tired saying goes: it is better to give than to receive, as we shall see).
Giving is personal. The act itself can be a thoughtful gift to someone, a meal you prepared for your brother, volunteering to walk shelter dogs, or giving money to a stranger who needs it. How you give is your choice.
Why Giving is Still the Key to Living Well – Even in 2021
Giving humbles us.
Humility is something we could all use these days. There is too much ego to go around. Giving from the heart and not from a place of obligation makes us more humble by realizing we could be in the shoes of that person. The basic act of giving of your services to help someone, giving money, or giving an item helps us to see that person from another perspective – we see them as human, like us, we connect on a deeper level, and it makes us glad we are in the position of helping them.
“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.” – Maya Angelou
Giving makes us better people.
“Give and you shall receive.” We are all familiar with this biblical scripture, but did you know giving truly does promote receiving? I have noticed when I give freely, I always receive in return somehow, somewhere. It’s a law of the universe, something that really can’t be explained with empirical evidence, but it is real. Give it a shot. Give to someone and see how someone else gives to you.
I’ve stood in line at Starbucks at different times and have had the person in front of me pay for my order. It’s happened three times now this year alone. It put a smile on my face, made my day, and inspired me to also give to someone!
Giving changes our relationship with material things.
The more we give to others, the more we realize that stuff is just stuff. It is convenient, yes, but not what matters – not in the end. What matters is giving our possessions or money to people who are in need. Giving makes us realize life is better and easier with less. Give away what you don’t use. Recycle, reuse, remake, but don’t throw it away.
The planet cannot handle any more stuff in landfills or the oceans.
Giving is good for our health.
Giving makes you happy! And, as mentioned earlier, happiness is lacking today. Studies demonstrate giving activates the reward area of the brain. It makes us calmer and happier. Happier people are more likely to have the energy and the will to help solve environmental, economic, and societal problems we face on this planet.
When was the last time you gave your time, talent, or money to someone and you DID NOT feel good about it? It’s inevitable that once you give, you will feel good about it. Physiologically, giving produces oxytocin and serotonin, two brain chemicals associated with happiness. Ever heard of the “helper’s high?” Read about it here.
You cannot go wrong by giving.
Giving encourages social connection.
A thank you note, an email, a positive response to a comment on social media, a donation of money, a phone call, helping your mother with the dishes, cleaning up the dog’s poop before being asked, volunteering at a local homeless shelter, even a smile can promote social connection.
Experts agree that connection is important for a healthy mind and body. Your act of kindness increases trust of others and helps you bond with your community. Giving creates a connection and helps you see others as human, like yourself, and not as numbers or statistics.
And, giving might bring you a new friend.
The kind stranger signed her name on the note.
I emailed her from the Craig’s List ad I had posted asking for cookbooks and thanked her for her thoughtful, loving gift. She replied, “You’re welcome.”
About two weeks later at the mailbox in the apt complex, I ran into her. I recognized her from her picture on Craig’s list. I took a daring step that I usually don’t do and started a conversation. I thanked her again and invited her to get some coffee. We found out we had a lot in common – she had a son close in age to my daughter. Her act of kindness, expecting nothing in return, began a friendship I have never forgotten. She was a single mother who experienced an abusive relationship, too.
Because of her selfless act, we both gained a friend. So did her son and my daughter. Definitely a win/win!
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou
There is a myriad of ways to give to others, and it doesn’t have to be difficult. From hugging an upset friend, to buying someone a gift, to donating five or millions of dollars to a charity, you will be making this world a better place, and that is so necessary right now. You choose how you want to give and to whom.
Want a way to help a person who needs help? Read Shannon Ashley’s story. She is a single mother who needs money for surgery for lipedema, a chronic disease caused by the buildup of fat tissues in the legs and arms. Lipedema is not caused by obesity, its causes are not well understood, and it produces pain, swelling, and easy bruising. Medical insurance in the United States, where Shannon lives, does not cover the surgery. Your gift to Shannon, in whatever amount, is your chance to make a difference in the life of someone you do not know.
Let’s do our part in making this world a better, more compassionate place.
I will end with a plea to never stop giving and a quotation from one of my favorite authors:
“The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” – Leo Tolstoy