Spread A Little Gratitude All Year Long

Every afternoon I have to shake my head when I open my overflowing mailbox. Amongst some seasonal greeting cards, I find enough catalogs to reforest a small country, or the state of Kansas, offering me holiday happiness through an amazing array of stuff that I didn’t even know existed. Shuffled in with these products of felled trees is a smaller glade of letters from every legitimate, and not so legitimate charity this side of Venus asking for some of my end-of –the year dollars. Please don’t misunderstand. I know how much the worthy causes depend on YOE donations to make their budgets. I have walked in those shoes and so each December I donate to as many as possible because it makes me feel fabulous to give money away to people and organizations in need. Extending that feeling is the topic for today.

Decades ago in Spirituality & Health magazine I read a short piece about an unusual gratitude practice by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, one of my favorite go-to spiritual people. It stuck with me. Each day, before he began his writing time, he would send a check to one of the charities he believed in. As he said, it wasn’t a big check; and that wasn’t the point. The ritual (and I am guessing he still does it) is about giving as a form of gratitude for what one has been given-- paying it forward. It would take an additional forest at least the size of Vermont to print all the articles written about what giving does for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Some of the benefits I covered earlier this month. To offer just a smidgeon of science on the topic, decades of studies show how giving money to those in need results in us feeling happier. Three regions of our brain are fired up when we are generous—the area associated with social behavior, generosity, happiness and decision-making. We experience a cascade of good-feeling hormones which floods our body, creating in us what Dr. Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia called, “The warm glow of giving.” This feeling is noted to be universal among the 120 countries included in the study. At the University of Zurich researchers found that the amount of money given didn’t change the effect of how much happier one felt. It is the act of giving that evokes the positive benefits.

For folks who don’t regularly sit down to write every day, here are some thoughts on how to adapt this practice. Many of us give regularly to our houses of worship, especially if we attend their services each week, and so our giving muscle already has some definition. Next, let’s focus on all those saplings in the form of year-end solicitation letters. After I have exhausted the bank balance designated for giving this holiday season, instead of tossing those remaining requests, I bundle all the legitimate ones into a stack and tuck them away. I suggest you do the same. Then you can use those letters throughout the following year to extend the indescribable feeling of quiet joy we all get when we give away something we value, in this case, money. Maybe you can set a schedule—say once a week on Sunday evening, to take a few quiet minutes after you have completed your Gratitude Meditation ;-) and open one of the letters. Think about the people who will benefit from your generosity and imagine them holding your gift in their hands. Let yourself acknowledge the altruistic feelings that come from this loving act. Then, write the check to the charity, or go online and enter your credit card. Afterward, you might slip into bed and sleep the sleep of the grateful. Or, slide into a warm tub (my personal fav) and be enveloped in the feelings of gratitude.

Although it may seem a stretch to see paying forward as a counter to loneliness, it helps in a non-tangible way that accumulates with time. A stealth fighter for positive benefit.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!