We are lucky to be living in a time when ideas about the relationship between giving, community and happiness are circulating widely.
The pay it forward movement is touching millions. Gift economy activists are being heard.
I remember, as a kid, learning about the world ‘altruism’ in Social Studies. I remember having this vague notion that altruism means doing something for someone else without thought of getting a reward back. But I couldn’t really fathom what this meant outside the realm of theory and definition: these were ultimately words in a big, hard-cover book and not concepts living in my here and now.
There have always been cultures that operate within a paradigm of giving without desire of immediate (or any) return, and these cultures (The Trobrianders, for instance, are often referenced) are increasingly being examined by gift economy advocates now that we are more and more attuned to the failings of societies built on greed and excessive accumulation of goods.
As unique as these societies can seem, their way of living is based on common sense ideas that we all already know and live by, even if we aren’t always conscious of it. It just feels good to give, and to know that others can benefit from our words and actions.
Sometimes the things that seem hardest to let go of are the things that allow us to feel most free once we have shared them.
There are so many ways we can give that, far from taxing us, are as easy and natural as breathing. Here are five simple, yet fantastic things we can give people that won’t cost a penny, and that are guaranteed to make people feel happy and loved:
How often are we too busy to sit down for a long phone chat, visit a friend we know is going through something, and hear—really be attentive to—the people in our lives?
One of the best things we can give people is our time, especially if we can give this with a fully open, loving heart.
The Dalai Lama has famously said that when he’s not busy, he meditates for an hour in the morning. When he’s really busy, he meditates for two hours.
When we think we don’t have enough hours in the day for our nearest and dearest, it could most the most beneficial time to be with them – for both of you.
Lately, research about the powerful benefits of hugging has been getting a lot of attention.
We’ve always instinctively known it to be true, but hugging is good for you. Hugging someone for 20 seconds or longer can actually improve your health.
And hugging just feels good—no, great. Take the time to hug your friends, family, and those you love, and you can create a shared moment of profound meaning that will stay with both of you and deepen your connections.
When was the last time you received a handwritten letter from a dear friend or family member in the mail?
It’s an unbelievably good feeling. And so is creating a sacred space for writing—and finding that old stationary you’ve had since you were 14 and have no clue what to do with, or a gorgeous piece of simple white paper, no lines please! – and sitting down to write a letter the old-fashioned way. If some coffee or tea spills onto the page accidentally, all the better.
I recently started a “real letter” correspondence with a beautiful friend with whom I’ve had only sporadic communication over the past 20 years, and we are both so excited about the process of beginning a new phase of our friendship in such an intimate way.
On a smaller scale, leaving notes for people expressing your gratitude to them—on their pillow, in their bag, or any hidden spot you know they’ll get to soon—is guaranteed to leave a smile on their face.
Something you cherish.
It can be an unbelievably freeing experience to share your favorite belongings with others. That book you’ve had forever, that you feel is a part of your very skin, and is dog-eared and all your favorite parts are highlighted, that you never imagined parting with … suddenly you meet someone and get into a really interesting conversation, and the book is just the thing you know they’d love to pore through.
And then, that book that touched your life so deeply can become an integral part of someone else’s world. All for nothing but a bundle of joy in the giving.
We all know that it’s not good to fixate on the past or hold onto things too tightly, which is one reason why gift-giving is so valuable in the first place.
But we can also acknowledge that as beautiful humans, we do have experiences, and these do become things we remember, and having things to remember that are positive and full of love can go a long way toward healing us on so many levels.
Taking our friends to places we know they’d love, or sitting on a comfy couch together having a long talk, trying a new sport or artistic activity, or visiting new places together so that you can both let new sensations flood the body … this is the stuff of memory-making, and all these things can entrench the bonds between you.
Sharing and giving are the foundations of a contentment-filled life. This means that in the giving, we are actually enriching ourselves and giving ourselves the causes for happiness. And that’s everything to be thankful for.
“My advice is that if you must be selfish, be wisely selfish. Wise people serve others sincerely, putting the needs of others above their own. Ultimately you will be happier. The kind of selfishness that provokes fighting, killing, stealing, using harsh words, forgetting other people’s welfare will only result in your own loss.”
~ The Dalai Lama
“Happy world based on happy community”
~ The Dalai Lama:
On the gift economy:
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photos: Author’s Own