There is nothing more delightful than unexpected acts of kindness.
- Like when I woke up in the dead of winter after a snow storm, begrudgingly pulled myself out of bed to go and shovel my driveway, only to discover that my neighbor had already taken care of it for me.
- Like when my daughter brings my laundry up from the basement – all neatly folded and organized for me, instead of in a crumpled pile.
- Like when I noticed items on a friend’s amazon wish list, and decided to buy and send them to her out of the blue and “for no good reason.”
Small acts of kindness. Meaningful gestures. Offered from our hearts as an expression of our love and our care.
Joyful giving is an expression of loving self-expression, not servitude.
It’s grounded in choicefulness, not submission.
It’s self-directed, not coerced.
It comes with no demands, no expectations, no attachment to outcomes.
This stands in stark contrast to the far more culturally normative and common forms of fear-and-control-based giving. The kind of giving that we engage in out of duty, obligation or fear of consequences. The kind of giving infused with self-abandonment, a bargain, rife with strings and unspoken expectations. The kind of giving that represents a sort of “giving in,” a submission, a concession.
- Like when I agree to help you prepare dinner and clean the house when company is coming over, because I tell myself I “should.” My heart’s not in it, and I feel a bit resentful on the back end.
- Like when you’d clean your room and do your chores as a child, but hated every minute of it and did the bare minimum to just make your parents happy.
- Like when I agree to go for a walk with you, even though I really don’t want to, and then complain about the weather and the terrain the entire time.
When we give out of duty, or fear of negative consequences, or to manage someone else’s feelings and reactions, each of us pays a price for it. Heaviness sets in and resentment builds up, creating increasingly toxic relational dynamics.
So how do we cultivate more joyful giving in our lives?
- See all needs as a gift, as an opportunity to make one another’s lives more wonderful, as Marshall Rosenberg used to say. When we don’t see our needs as a gift, we don’t ask for the things we actually need and end up running on empty. When we hear other people’s needs as demands put upon us, we will receive very little joy from meeting those needs.
- Don’t allow other people to meet your needs with “a yes that isn’t so.” If we are doing something to win someone’s approval, or out of hope that they will love you more if you do the thing they are asking, check in with yourself and double check your intentions and choices. If you suspect someone is agreeing to do something, but doesn’t really want to do it, slow the conversation down and check in with them. Marshall Rosenberg once suggested that if someone gives you a yes that you don’t trust, try saying something like this: “I’m feeling really tense right now, and I would really appreciate it if you would look inside to make sure none of these things are motivating you: any fear of how I will respond if you don’t, any belief that if you do that I will love you more, any concept of guilt if you don’t, any shame if you don’t, any concept of duty or obligation. Please, please, please if any of those things are mixed in, do not do as I request. Life is too short for us to do anything for each other out of those terms.”
- Give daily, every moment of every day. Look for ways to bring joy to people every day. Shower people with your attention, time and affection. Say something kind to a stranger. Say a silent prayer for someone. Send a message of appreciation. Give a hug. Say “thank you.” Give an anonymous gift. As Maya Angelou famously remarked, “People may not remember what you did or said, but they will remember how you made them feel.”
- Tune into the dynamic feedback loop of giving and receiving. Nature gives us beautiful examples of this dynamic exchange that drives life and well-being. Flowers give the gift of nectar and sweet smells, and receive pollinators in return. We receive the gift of oxygen from trees, and give them carbon dioxide back. In this way, giving and receiving become one symbiotic act: Giving from our hearts increases the circle of abundance and love in our lives.
- Make life a constant celebration of either how your life has been enriched, or how it can be enriched. Stay with this quality of giving in every moment, in every contact we have with other people. “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” –Maya Angelou
- Communicate aliveness, from your heart: Learn how to communicate what is alive in you: what you feel, what you need, what you wish for, desire and request. Learn to listen for what is alive in others: how they feel, what they need and what might make life more wonderful for them. Speak gently. Listen generously. Say please and thank you. Receive gratefully: happily receiving gives pleasure to the giver.
There are real biological benefits to giving in this open-hearted, free way. We release more oxytocin, the “warm fuzzy” hormone responsible for euphoria, bonding, trust and connectedness. It’s contagious and multiplies, creating ripple effects.
And finally, remember to give that which you want more of in life.
If you want joy, give joy.
If love is what you seek, give love.
If you want more generosity, be generous.
In what ways do you find yourself giving joyfully, from your heart?
I’d love to know! Leave a comment below.
Yesterday I had an experience with my daughter and grandaughter of unexpected joyful giving and receiving. I asked for their thoughts and feelings about a current political issue important to me with the intention of listening and reflecting to learn and to create more connection. I was surprized at at the joy and gratitude I felt at their revelations. Even though we are on opposite sides of the issue. Also I am happy to report that even with increasing memory loss in other situations the recall of feelings is strong even when words fail.
Thank you for this and your talk at LHSC. It has moved joyful giving to a place of prominence in my mind and heart.