Can you find the happy in the crappy? Life has taught me that yes I can for as long as I draw from the three G’s—God’s grace, gratitude and giving. God’s grace, author Anne Lamott likes to say, meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us. Consistently, I must say, His grace never fails, no matter how often and for as long as it takes.
Gratitude and giving go hand in hand. No matter your state in life, you will always have something to give. And no matter how down in the dumps you might be feeling, next to God’s grace, it is in the giving where you find your salvation.
Dr. Stephen G. Post, professor of preventive medicine and founding director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stonybrook University wrote in his book “The Gifts of Helping” that helping isn’t just linked to a healthier life but to a longer one by citing a 2005 analysis of a survey of more than 7,000 older adults, conducted by researchers at Stanford University, where it was found that frequent volunteering was linked to longevity.
Beauty of giving
“The generous behavior documented by this research, and that we witness in everyday life, often is not what we would call heroic. But that’s the beauty of giving. It doesn’t have to be on a grand scale. Regardless of our condition, we can still give—whether it’s a meal to a hungry soul, a hug to a crying child, or a smile to someone we pass on the street—and it will still be meaningful. The world you know may shift beneath your feet, but you can trust your own heart always to reach out with love,” Post says.
He describes several easy and concrete ways how we can expand what I’d like to call our giving quotient. One of the easiest ways is to keep a journal about the large and small ways you are giving right now. It’s not really a matter of keeping track but rather privately enjoying the high that comes from helping. And helping does not have to be in big ways. “You may be surprised to find that a friendly smile, a question about how things are going, or an offer to pick up groceries helped someone through a rough patch,” he explains. Knowing that you have made a dent or a difference in someone’s day will motivate you to help even more.
Next, Post advocates that we make it a practice to help one person every day. “This is an easy and gratifying exercise that, with very little practice, can become a natural part of your daily routine. Whether you help by holding the elevator, dropping a dollar into a homeless person’s hand, or pitching in to help with a loved one’s chore, notice how this makes you feel.”
Begin with one kind act each day as your objective, and notice how you feel. Do it consistently, and after a few weeks, it will become a part of your daily routine, and then write down how making that change has made a difference in your own life.
Giving does not have to cost you anything. You can draw from your own skills and talents. If you bake well, use that to bring joy to others. If you write well, use the gift to help uplift others. If your skill is in organizing and fundraising, that is a valuable skill that can be put to good use by many nonprofit entities.
Post says, “Research shows that we benefit most when we help others by drawing on our natural gifts. People find it easier to consistently help others when they are doing things they believe they are good at. So think about your own skills, what you most enjoy doing; as long as you’re passionate about it, that’s what counts. Reaching out in the way that best suits you helps keep you on track.”
A fourth suggestion is to think about the many ways others have given to us right now and in the past.
For me, although I have now learned to be careful that the well does not dry out in terms of emotional giving and support, I always try to remember the comfort that was provided to me during the darkest days of my life, when I encountered my deepest losses; 2 Corinthians 1:4 always comes to mind.
“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” Burnout is a reality, and self-care is also a must, but always, there is a God who enables us to give because He continues to give to us endlessly and unconditionally.
Gratitude, whether in prayer, through a letter, an SMS or an e-mail is a sure-fire way to raise the giving and joy quotient. According to Post, a research by psychologist Christopher Peterson has found that writing gratitude letters and delivering them in person, make people feel significantly happier for a month. In the digital age, a heartfelt e-mail, or a few minutes on Skype can also be just as effective when delivering the letter physically is not possible.
Comfort and support
On a recent trip to Guam, my Ateneo classmate Sis. Melong Gaite, who is with the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, and I talked about the grief programs we had recently set up to provide comfort and peer support to children who had lost loved ones. The program she had in Guam was called Rainbows for God’s Children. We discussed the possibilities of collaborating and working together in the near future. As we descended the hill, we stopped in our tracks because before us stood the biggest and brightest rainbow either one of us had ever seen.
We both smiled and she said, “What better affirmation of the work that we do and the plans that lie ahead.” God speaks in the silence of our hearts but sometimes His message come across in bright and beautiful colors like it did that afternoon.
Follow the author on Twitter @cathybabao; visit www.storiesbykate.wordpress.com.