“As you grow older you will discover that you have two hands. One for helping yourself, the other for helping others”
“Give and ye shall receive” is a quote that indicates that giving is a two way street – that there is something in it for the giver as well as the receiver, and this week in our Ridiculously Simple Steps To Transform Your Health (and Life) we explore how giving can increase your overall health and happiness.
The very terms “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” suggest the giving of an emotional gift – merry and happy. Christmas is a special time of the year for the many people who believe it is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Others celebrate it as the holiday season. Whatever your belief, most people join in the practice of giving gifts and are thinking “what is the perfect gift I can give to the people who are special to me”? What can I put under the tree that will delight the people I love? The problem is, that in an affluent society most people have the resources to buy most things they want and need which leaves little for people to give. As children, we were absolutely delighted to receive presents twice a year – birthday and Christmas, and the anticipation (oh the anticipation!) was almost more exciting than the gift itself. I remember one year when my parents were struggling to find enough money to live, we wondered whether there would be any Christmas at all, and now it brings such a warm feeling remembering my absolute delight in discovering my mother had sewed my favourite doll a full bridal trousseau. As a child I was also struggling to think how I could make this an exciting time for my younger brother. We lived on a small farm and of course in Australia it was the height of summer. My father used to provide all the meat for the family from our farm and I found a hoof of an animal in the area where my father dressed the meat and made some impressions with the hoof in the soil near our house so that my brother would think Santa and his reindeers were close by! I will never forget his excitement thinking of Christmas, (or mine) on discovering the thrill of making another happy. It is a trap to think that we should spend our lives making others happy, but by cultivating a generous giving life, we also become the beneficiary. Sometimes people also need to learn to receive – this can often be the case with someone who always does the giving.
Gifts are a natural manifestation of the love and joy we want to share with others but sometimes (and especially at Christmas) gift-giving can become an expensive material exchange, in which obligation plays a bigger role than the pleasure we’re supposed to be sharing. In this week’s Ridiculously Simple Steps To Transform Your Health (and Life) we not only focus on the health benefits of giving, but on gifts that cost nothing and bring more joy – both for the giver and receiver.
Rather than being drawn into shopping-more-buying-more-getting-more and the stress of it, we want to recapture the true joy of giving. What are people really looking for in a gift? They are looking for a happiness buzz – something to take them out of the tedium of every day living. A physical gift will do that momentarily, but the effect soon wears off, however a gift for the soul will last forever. Research has strongly indicated that when we invest in quality life gifts – spending time on our relationships, investing in health, helping others etc we experience the greatest happiness and satisfaction – as does the receiver. There is always a temptation in thinking someone will enjoy a physical present more than our love and time, but research suggests our love and time make longer lasting presents. When our children were growing up and it was my birthday/Mother’s day etc I always strongly encouraged them to think of a gift they could give me that did not cost physical money. Some of the most precious gifts I have recorded in my heart are of the times I received breakfast in bed, a cup of tea when I was exhausted, some little flowers from my garden when I thought there were none, a foot massage, a whole body massage in front of the fire by three of the children all at once! kitchen clean up, help with technology, a hand made card, a painting etc etc. What I remember most about these times is the love I received. It is true (research proves it) we are happiest when we are connected to family, friends and community. It is also true that people may forget what you said and what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel. We need to think “life” not stuff!
Helping others may not only make us feel good about ourselves; it can also increase our physical well-being. The mind and body aren’t separate. Anything we do to elevate our spirits will also have a beneficial effect on our health. As I am writing this I am reminded of my daughter who decided one Christmas that she would make a gingerbread man for every child in her class. I remember her effort and her excitement as she thought of each child who would receive something she had baked herself. I believe she will never forget the buzz she got from taking those gingerbread men to school and giving a little of her love to each class mate. I believe they will not forget it either.
A recent study by Cornell University found that volunteering increases a person’s energy, sense of mastery over life, and self-esteem. Other studies have demonstrated that such positive feelings can actually strengthen and enhance the immune system. Positive emotions increase the body’s number of T-cells, cells in the immune system that help the body resist disease and recover quickly from illness. Positive emotions also release endorphins into the bloodstream. Endorphins are the body’s natural tranquilizers and painkillers; they stimulate dilation of the blood vessels, which leads to a relaxed heart. Harvard researchers also conducted a study that showed how giving is such a powerful immune booster that it can be experienced just by watching someone else in the act of giving! In this well-known experiment, students looking at a film of Mother Teresa as she tended the sick in Calcutta—even those who purported to dislike Mother Teresa—got an increase in immune function. – how cool is that!!
Consider the following poem about a life well lived.
WINNING. Winning is giving your best self away, winning is serving with grace every day.
You’ll know that you’ve won when your friends say it’s true – “I like who I am, when I’m around you.”
You look for the best in the others you see, and you help us become who we’re trying to be. Winning is helping someone who’s down, it’s sharing a smile instead of a frown. It’s giving your children a hug by the fire and sharing the values and dreams that inspire It’s giving your parents the message “I care. Thanks, Mum and Dad, for being so fair. “Winners are willing to give more than get, their favours are free, you’re never in debt. Winners respect every colour and creed, they share and they care for everyone’s need. The losers keep betting that winning is getting, but there’s one of God’s laws that they keep on forgetting And this is the law you can live and believe – the more that you give, the more you’ll receive.
Economically these are tough times so it provides the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate how we will celebrate this Christmas and what kind of gifts we will give. To understand what the heart values most, consider the need in the world. Generosity has the amazing power to unshackle us from materialism and fill our hearts with contentment. We hope that by introducing this week’s Ridiculously Simple Step To Transform Your Health (and Life) it will allow you to consider the possibility of giving gifts of the heart that can deepen your relationships, improve your health, increase your joy and will last a lifetime.
Your comments and suggestions are invited on this blog post.