You know how the saying goes, right? T’is better to give than to receive. And while there’s no denying how lovely it is to find, oh, say, I don’t know, a tiny powder-blue Tiffany-like box on your nightstand on a holiday morning, it’s actually a far better feeling to give than to receive. It really is. Especially when the giving is of ourselves and doesn’t even involve anything material.
Like I remember when I was a little girl and I’d sneak into the garage and grab the big push broom and sweep out all the leaves to surprise my mom. That little unsolicited act of kindness (key word being unsolicited) meant more to her than any store-bought gift I could’ve given her. And I’ll bet some real cash money that most people feel the same. (Although I’m sure it would’ve meant significantly more to her if I had a focused that kind of attention on the condition of my bedroom, but what can you do, right?)
And it’s heartwarming when we see people giving of themselves for the benefit of others—both in big ways and in small ways. Because, as my pal Henry James often said, Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind. And Henry, my man, you were right.
The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be another time of the year when we’re all as focused on the act of giving and spreading kindness as we are during the holiday season. And I guess I just wish that that wasn’t the case. I wish that everyone felt the spirit of giving a little more often throughout the other eleven-and-a-half months of the year.
And that’s precisely why the group of 4th, 5th, and 6th grade cross country runnergirls that I help coach decided to do a different kind of giving this year as our community service project. This year, everyone agreed that we should give of ourselves—give our time and our energy and our passion for helping others—instead of giving actual money or buying actual things.
See, in past years we’ve held book drives and bake sales and fundraisers to raise money for different causes or organizations that needed some extra support—all of which were incredibly worthwhile in their own right. But this year, we were all inspired to pay it forward in a different way. To give something less tangible but possibly even more meaningful than traditional dollars and cents.
So we put our one hundred-plus heads together (all that girlpower in one place can power a small city) and decided to grab our rakes and pink gardening gloves and leaf bags and reach out to people in our community who needed a helping hand this holiday season. And we raked. And we raked. And we raked. And at the end of the day, and hundreds of leaf bags later, fourteen families in our little town had pristine, leaf-free yards to enjoy for the holidays.
Needless to say, we had some very humbled homeowners, who were overwhelmed with gratitude. And that, in turn, humbled the girls. Because they experienced, first hand, the power of giving from the heart. They saw the look of thankfulness on people’s faces when we arrived like a small army, wielding leaf blowers and lawn tools. And what they took away from that experience of giving rather than receiving was more valuable than any mall gift card they could get this season. And it was beautiful.
And that’s the thing; we need to teach our kids, from an early age, how important it is to pay it forward. How necessary it is to accept that we don’t go through life alone. That in some small way, we’re all obligated to look out for one another, to practice kindness. Just because.
The fact is, we all end up needing a helping hand at some point. I don’t care who you are. Which is why it’s so important to practice the act of giving almost like it’s a religion. Because someday someone’s going to need you to give and someday you’ll be the one who needs to receive.
But what we end up getting in return for extending our hand to someone is way more powerful than most anything we could find in a pretty box with an expertly tied bow. And the reason why is simple. We’re not on this big, beautiful planet alone. We’re here with a whole lot of other people; so it becomes our responsibility, even our obligation, to think of others—especially those who need a little extra help.
The moral? Put yourself out there for the benefit of someone else. Because giving of yourself comes with a one-hundred-percent guarantee that you’ll get way more back in return than you ever expected. Outstanding investment opportunity, if you ask me.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.