Giving as the Goal
What if a major part of your day was focused on giving? Seriously, what if every single day, you woke up, strategizing, planning, and brainstorming ways to give - selflessly - to others? What would that look like? Or feel like? Well, you can take it from me that after an experiment just shy of a month, it feels pretty darn good.
After fortuitously stumbling upon the story of 29 Gifts - a non-fiction account of how a woman named Cami Walker fights against her debilitating physical ailments with the healing prescription of gift-giving for 29 days straight (no excuses) - I am convinced that giving can change your life. As someone who's deeply interested in alternative ways to heal, tactics to improve happiness (like writing in a gratitude journal) and all things related to positive psychology, I had to read it for myself.
The story is incredibly honest, inspiring, and motivating. The author, Cami, is only 35 yet she's struggling with an intensely painful form of MS and spiraling depression. The story sucks you in, and then the journey of gift giving, is like a magnificent, shining bright light at the end of the tunnel as we begin to learn how these small, selfless gifts dramatically improve our author's life.
So I tried it. Across the past 29 days, I gave gifts. Lots of gifts. All kinds of gifts. I send cards to family members and friends. I sent loving kindness meditations to someone in need. I sent people I care about flowers. I gave gifts of books (even this very book). I gave gifts of cleaning. I gave of my time. I surprise-treated friends at coffee dates. I gave of my homemade food. I gave to online giving sites. I gave myself a day of stress-free self-care. I gave homeless people a few dollars.
Can you imagine the feeling of actually looking for a homeless person to buy lunch or give a few bucks? It happened multiple times when I realized I hadn't yet given a gift on a particular day. And though there is of course a debate around giving people on the street money, when you look someone in the eye who's down on his or her luck and give them a gift - a dollar - a sandwich - it's really a moving experience and ultimately (I believe) a tremendous worthwhile act. It creates a shift with a dramatic ripple effect.
And that's what struck me the most, I think, about this entire process (and what Cami elucidates in her book). That there is a shift that occurs when you start to become less focused on you, yourself, and more focused on others. This isn't about giving away huge sums of money, and in fact, I think money is the 'easy' way out of gift giving (and a crutch I unfortunately used when feeling exhausted at the end of the day and depleted of creative, free, gift ideas). But who the heck cares? The point is this is the process and the action of giving of starting to focus on others.
I, like so many of us, can get stuck in this feeling of not having enough - I don't have enough money, or time, or instagram followers, or cookbooks, or travels under my belt, or energy, or fill-in-the-blank. In a culture that uses fear and scarcity as a marketing tactic (and a dang good one at that) the shift towards giving can flip our worlds around - for the better.
When we begin to focus more of our energy and efforts towards giving instead of getting, a series of tiny miracles occur. First of all, we begin to treasure how much we really do have - we start looking at things with fresh eyes. Second, we have an excuse to actually DO all those sweet things we mean to do - write that note to an old friend, call your aunt/brother/sister/cousin/etc/ you've been meaning to talk to and give a great gift of listening, send that small gift to make someone's day just because you love them. And third, and perhaps most importantly, we start to feel more connected to those around us - and I really mean ALL of those around us.
Through my own journey of 29 day of giving and a firm (yet wonderful) pressure to give every day in a row I began to notice that I actually live in a world of complete abundance. I began to really recognize how blessed I am, how lucky I am, and how a small gesture of kindness can give both me (the giver) and the receiver a tremendous amount of energy and joy. And ultimately, I started to unveil what actually mattered, underneath it all. For that, I feel like this entire journey was one giant gift of self-love. May you too remember that giving often the answer to finding.