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Kindness, Resilience and Post Traumatic Growth

 

Flowers were among the much appreciated gifts of kindness I recently received.

Flowers were among the much appreciated gifts of kindness I recently received.

I began writing this piece as a reflection on rebounding from some personal trauma, but I am a slow writer and events overtake me.  My challenges actually coincided with the Orlando shootings.  Of course, trouble and pleasure are both constant visitors on the micro level (stubbed toes and flowers) and the macro (an awesome Pope and drowning refugees).  And, they’re inter-connected: our personal happiness or lack thereof dramatically affects our ability to contribute to the greater good, while the greater good or seeming lack thereof similarly impacts our own capacity for joyful living.  That is why I advocate as strongly as possible for both personal happiness and a Gross National Happiness paradigm.  Both matter. A lot.

Still, following the killings of black Americans Alton Sterling and Philando Castile — as you all probably know, two seemingly unjustified executions by police officers — and then the targeted executions by a sniper of five police officers keeping the peace at a Dallas Black Lives Matter protest, my personal musings just seem so damned trivial. Yet, where else can we start but in our own hearts and souls?

So I continue with my story on kindness, resilience and post traumatic growth, wishing that the same factors writ large may help our deeply troubled nation evolve.  (Please dear god may our country also experience post traumatic growth!)

To transition, I offer this wisdom from one of my go-to authors, Italian psychotherapist Piero Ferruci, author of The Power of Kindness:The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life: “Kindness? It may strike us as absurd to even approach the subject: Our world is full of violence, war, terrorism, devastation.  And yet life goes on precisely because we are kind to one another. No newspaper tomorrow will tell of a mother who read a bedtime story to her child, or a father who prepared breakfast for his children, of someone who listened with attention, of a friend who cheered us up, of a stranger who helped us carry a suitcase. Many of us are kind without even knowing it. We do what we do simply because it is right.”

My story starts with a winter memory of kindness, a day several passing motorists stopped to help get my car unstuck from an ice-coated driveway.  When I thanked them, one of the strangers thanked me right back, for giving him the opportunity to be helpful.

These last few weeks I’ve been remembering that normal, “simply because it is right” interaction because it left me focused on the “helper’s high” the kindness giver may feel, rather than the profound gratitude that may flood the recipient. For that learning, I apparently needed more than the minor annoyance of a stuck car.  A threat to my left eye created a mile-wide vulnerability ability to receive kindness.  I am sure the loving kindness that enveloped me hastened my emotional recovery.  Indeed, accepting and appreciating that kindness is a definite benefit of my frightening encounter with (limited) vision loss.

Since the incident is still fresh, I don’t yet have perspective. I don’t know for sure if the treatments will work, though the doctor assures me the odds are “heavily stacked” in my favor.  I don’t know if the sight in my left eye will ever improve.  Meanwhile, the possibility of the same problem arising in my right eye is very real, although here again the doctor is reassuring.  That’s a lot of unknowns.  Rather important unknowns.

However, I do know some things.

First, I know that it was a traumatizing shock to hear that I was in danger of losing all vision in my left eye without immediate, frightening treatments.  My response to be quiet, turn inward, and focus on my own feelings and healing was apparently both appropriate and effective, as my spirits rebounded substantially within a week of the first treatment.  Whatever the reality of my vision, I feel like myself again. Research shows that happier people may be more resilient.  Perhaps I had the science of happiness on my side.

Second, the treatment wasn’t as bad as I expected.  Obviously no one wants a shot in the eye.  For some reason, I assumed the injection would be in the pupil, a particularly distressing prospect. But it wasn’t the pupil, it wasn’t that painful, the eye wasn’t even especially sore afterwords.  A little freaky, but I can let go of ruminating over an unfounded fear.

Third, I know I am lucky to have insurance coverage for this doctor and these treatments. This was almost financially disastrous.  The first retina specialist my optometrist connected me with is outside my insurance coverage region, which would have meant an $1800 deductible followed by an ongoing 30% co-pay.  Both a retina specialist and the vision-saving drug are likely exceedingly expensive.  If the current doctor had not been available, I would obviously have gone to the first recommended specialist.  There would have been no real choice, even if saving my vision led to bankruptcy.  I am simultaneously grateful for my own good fortune and horrified that the minefield I dodged exists at all!

Fourth, Facebook and other social media were a godsend. While I am an extrovert who generally gets a lot of energy from face-to-face relationships, for about a week, I needed to cocoon.  Social media provided a way for me to reach out, and for others to respond. The morning of my first treatment, when I read the outpouring of caring responses to the blog I published the night before, I wept with appreciation.  The love I needed was there for me, thanks to the oft-maligned internet.

Fifth, I know that both the duration and intensity of my trauma were minimal compared with what many people endure. My thoughts on Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) refer only to my own experience.  Actually, as a non-therapist, I don’t know that much about Post Traumatic Growth, though it is a topic we touched on during the Certificate in Positive Psychology training.  Wikipedia says PTG, or “benefit finding”:  “refers to positive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges in order to rise to a higher level of functioning. … Post traumatic growth is …. undergoing significant ‘life-changing’ psychological shifts in thinking and relating to the world, that contribute to a personal process of change, that is deeply meaningful.”

Though only time will tell how life-changing this episode will be in my life, I can certainly say it contributed to “a personal process of change that is deeply meaningful.”  I believe I will look back at this time with a sense of peace, love, gratitude, and even joy. I foresee no reason why this trauma should be triggered in a negative way in the future, thanks to an awareness of the many gifts that supported me, including:

Gift of time.  My husband, friends, and the nature of my work and responsibilities at this stage of life allowed me to back off from everything that did not serve my needs. Again, I know I am fortunate.  And grateful.

Gift of writing. Sometimes writing feels like a burden to me.  In this case, writing allowed me to articulate the experience as I saw and felt it, giving me some sense of control over my own story.  I was so grateful to be a writer, especially when others told me that my story somehow inspired or helped them.  Amazing!  To be able to help others in my own time of pain, it blows me away.

Gift of reduced negativity. My initial diagnosis happened the day before the Orlando massacre.  While I normally follow the news pretty closely and cry with much of the world’s heartbreaks, this time, I limited my exposure.  Being a good citizen is important to me, but I had to take care of myself first.  This, by the way, is a gift each of us can give to ourselves when we need it.

Gift of modern medicine. Big pharma gets a bad rap for greed and money-fueled lobbying, but today I am very thankful for the drug industry.  Until recently, doctors had no way to help patients who developed the same condition I have.  My doctor told me, “We could only watch helplessly as they went blind.” The drug that is saving my eyesight has been in use for just 10 years.  Wow. So grateful. So lucky.

Gift of Good Luck.  Ferruci notes in his kindness book, that luck is largely a result of mindfulness, of noticing the goodness in life.  In addition to the medicine and the insurance, here’s another piece of luck I noticed: the flashing symptoms that sent me to the optometrist in the first place. Those symptoms were unrelated to the condition that exam discovered, yet without them,  don’t know when I would have noticed that the vision in my left eye was deteriorating.  Since my right eye was working overtime to compensate for the left, what luck to have flashing! Again, I am grateful.

Above all, gifts of love.  My husband, who spent many hours waiting in doctors’ offices with me; my friend Ulrike who told me to go ahead and cry at her birthday brunch if that’s what I needed (I did); the flowers, gift certificate, offers of whatever help I needed; even my son’s compliment on my writing skills — the gifts came in many forms.  I savor them all.  Each alone and all together, they mean so much.

So now I know.  Receiving kindness can be just as sweet as giving it.  May we all embrace both, wholeheartedly.

The “Happiness Lady” Is Sad

I was momentarily at a loss for words after choir practice last week.  I had just introduced myself to a new choir member who smiled and said, “Oh, yeah, you’re the happiness lady, right?”

I was briefly taken aback because I didn’t feel that happy.  In truth, I was sad.  Of course, cultivating happiness is not about dismissing or ignoring negative emotions.  They are valuable contributors to the palette of life.  So I quickly recovered my equilibrium enough to smile back and say, sure, yeah, I guess  I am the happiness lady.

My sadness is still with me today, and I’m okay with that.  I just had two major losses in my life: 1) I closed my Happiness Paradigm store and 2) my baby granddaughter, who had lived with us for almost all her first 17 months of life, moved with her mother to a distant state.

My granddaughter "helping" me with my suitcase as I prepare to leave her new home.

My granddaughter “helping” me with my suitcase as I prepare to leave her new home.

Though both events are positive developments, there is nonetheless grief.   My daughter landed an excellent job, which is critical to the long term well being of her and her daughter.  Still, I deeply miss having a beloved baby under my roof.  How could I not?

As for the store … one reason I closed it was to open a new space in a more populated area where I can do workshops, mediations, coaching, and writing.  But my new office is still being built from two old closets and isn’t ready yet.  I’m feeling un-moored.

Plus, it’s fall and the darkness is closing in.

So, what is a sad “happiness lady” to do?  Or you, for that matter?  It’s a fundamentally important question, not only for my current minor distress but also for the much more daunting pain and struggles we will all be forced to grapple with sometime (s).

Indeed, small challenges are also opportunities for us to practice the coping skills that we will need to endure the really tough suffering.

What might those skills look like?  For starters, they might look like the previous paragraph: shifting one’s perspective to find the positive aspects in a negative situation (ie, challenges are also opportunities).  In my mediation training, we called this “reframing;” you could just say it’s looking for the cloud’s silver lining.

Being aware of, and present to, our sadness is vital — as is humor.  Comedian Louis C.K. combines both in this timely video my daughter alerted me to (a video that will be especially entertaining to Bruce Springsteen fans).  Louis C.K. also highlights ways not to deal with sadness — another valuable lesson.

I’ve cried on and off these past few weeks, and that’s good,  too.  In another timely internet offering, neuroscientist Mark Brady’s new blog on “Crying In Restaurants” observes that “tears of grief are filled with neuro-toxins and crying is one way the body is built to move them out of our system.”  Tears are a great gift — if we give ourselves the time and space to cry them.  I’ve found the time to do that, choosing to stay home alone or with my husband and just be with the sadness.

There are so many other ways to cope, and your choices will be different from mine.  My coping strategies include singing in the church choir (which combines community, spirituality, service, learning, and the transformative power of music); hard work (a huge home improvement project, designed to simplify our lives and substantially curtail our personal contribution to climate change); service to others (through another church committee, “Lay Pastoral Care”); and exercise (yoga, bone builders, and kayaking).

And then there are my two favorite happiness strategies: gratitude and savoring.  It is, after all, autumn in Vermont.  When Bob and I kayaked on one of our favorite local lakes, the sweetly named “Peacham Pond,” it was a brilliantly sunny, cool, and windy Saturday.  Perhaps because the water was choppy, we had the lake to ourselves — except for a half dozen loons.  I was in love that day with Vermont, with Peacham Pond, with the tantalizing beauty of the foliage just starting to change, with my husband, with life.  So much to be grateful for, so much to savor.  My current bout of sadness isn’t through with me yet, but it sure did leave me alone for that glorious afternoon.

 

The Purpose of Happiness

Happy with a purpose: pushing the stroller!

Happy with a purpose: pushing the stroller!

I’ll admit to being just a wee bit clever with the headline.

That is, I’m mushing together two different happiness threads.  First, I want to share some current thoughts on why cultivating individual and systemic well-being is so vital.  Second, I’ve had some personal experiences and observations on Sonja Lyubomirsky‘s “Happiness Activity No. 10” — committing to your goals, or, having a purpose.

Why Happiness Matters      

There are, of course, a multitude of reasons why happiness matters, including sounder health, greater creativity, increased compassion, more personal success,and better parenting.  Perhaps because I’ve had a grand baby living in my house, I often think of Christine Carter’s book Raising Happiness and her emphasis on parents “putting on your own (happiness) oxygen masks first” to raise compassionate, joyful children.  Obviously, I want to do my part to help my grand daughter become a compassionate and joyful person.

Then there’s Aristotle’s quote:  “Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”  That is, all our other purposes in life are really in the service of happiness for ourselves and others.  Happiness is purpose in capital letters.

But what really made me want to write on this topic were three lines from a book I bought at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York last month.  The book is Happiness by Thich Nhat Hanh. It contains a variety of mindfulness practices to “fully enjoy life’s gifts.”  In the intro, the Buddhist monk writes, “Every step and every breath can be an opportunity for joy and happiness.  Life is full of suffering.  If we don’t have enough happiness on reserve, we have no means to take care of our despair.”

A few days later, the urgency of cultivating both personal happiness and a societal Gross National Happiness paradigm struck me as I listened to a National Public Radio story on how warmer temperatures that come with climate change could lead to spikes in violence and fighting.

We have to figure out a better way to cope, and soon.  Here’s a goal: for the impossibly big stuff (climate change) and the smaller griefs (like the one I share below), let’s substantially build our happiness reserves.

If history predicts the future, happiness may well be key to positively and collectively adapting to change.  According to evolutionary psychologist David Lykken — one of the early modern happiness researchers — happiness is an “adaptive difference”  that during early human history at least “increased the chances of survival … improved one’s chances of maintaining and profiting from group membership (and) gradually separated our ancestors from the also-ran. ”  (Happiness, p. 14)

Perhaps, happiness will once again be a key determinant of human survival.  

Purpose as a Happiness Strategy

Unlike our ancient ancestors, we can benefit from researchers like Lyubomirsky and their guide books for our individual happiness journeys.  In The How of Happiness, Lyubomirsky details 12 happiness activities; number 10 focuses on goals.

She starts that chapter with a quote from Australian psychiatrist W. Beran Wolfe, written in 1932: “If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert.”  Or, as Lyubomirsky more succinctly put it, “Find a happy person, and you will find a project.” (p. 205)

My inspiration on this topic was closer to home, and very 21st century — a walk several weeks ago with my 15 month-old granddaughter Madeleine.  She and I were returning from the neighborhood labyrinth about a mile and a half away.  Though she contently rode to the labyrinth in her stroller, on the way back, she started fussing.  For some reason, I asked her if she wanted to help push.

Boy, did she.  It was hot and we had a long way to go, but that little girl was determined to “push” the stroller all the way home (with grandma’s help, of course).  Because I knew she was exhausted, I tried repeatedly to convince her to quit pushing and relax in the passenger seat.  No way.  She had a purpose, one that clearly fed her happiness in that moment.  Though she is too young to articulate goals, if she could, I’m sure she would have said her goal was to push the stroller to our front door.  In fact, she diligently and doggedly pushed for more than a mile.  Looking down at her little body working so hard was a poignant sight — and a lesson in the value of purpose.

Lyubomirsky cautions that no happiness strategy will resonate with everyone, and that is true even within my immediate nuclear family.  Unlike Madeleine, her grandfather (my husband Bob) is not goal oriented.  He always has many projects going — he’s just not in a hurry to finish anything.  Earlier in our marriage, Bob’s lack of purpose upset me.  I’d press him to articulate his goals, and he would panic because … he basically doesn’t have any.   Yet, he’s content and happy.  Part of my lifelong learning was to recognize that he is who he is, and one of my goals should definitely not be to change him.  Similarly, Madeleine has always been a determined and focused little being; I wouldn’t even dream of trying to change her!

As for me, purpose not only helps define my most satisfying days, it is also a reliable coping strategy* when life isn’t working the way I’d like — for example, dealing with the smaller grief I mentioned above.  Just a few days ago, my beautiful daughter and granddaughter — who came to live with us when the baby was only five weeks old — moved to a distant state.  The move is a good thing, and definitely meets my daughter’s need to have a purpose (teaching university students).  I’m happy for them.  Nonetheless, I was very, very sad when the moving van drove away.   Everywhere I looked, I saw memories of Madeleine and our precious year and a half together.

Fortunately, I also saw projects everywhere.  I cried awhile, and then tackled my oppressively messy clothes situation.  Two days later, I had one bag of clothes to donate to an artist friend who will re-purpose the material beautifully; two large trash bags filled with clothes to donate to the Goodwill; one trash bag filled with items that just needed to be thrown away; and a much, much neater closet and dresser.  Best of all, I felt better.  This project helped me say goodbye to the past and turn toward the fun times my granddaughter and I will share in the future.  It was soothing, and settling.

Since June, I have co-facilitated a happiness study group designed to help each participant determine which which strategies from The How of Happiness will best make each of us happy.  It’s been clear to me for some time that spreading happiness is one of the most fundamentally important purposes of my life.  Now, I also appreciate just how much having a purpose and pursuing my goals deepens my own happiness.   It is comforting knowledge.

____

* Developing coping strategies for challenging times is another of Lyubomirsky’s recommended happiness activities.

Gander & Goose Happiness

Right before the latest big blizzard, I read a post from a Texan who wrote that it was 60 degrees and sunny in his neck of the woods that day.  “Why would anyone ever want to live in the northeast?” he asked.

My internal response was, “Texas?  Really?  Are you kidding me?”  Large swaths of Texas have been on fire the last few years.  The state as a whole has lately suffered crushingly hot temperatures and frightening drought.  Why would anyone ever want to live in Texas?

As they say, different strokes for different folks.

When it comes to happiness, I suspect our differences emanate from a soul level.  Certainly each of us needs to chart our own distinct happiness paths.  As Sonja Lyubomirksy observes, “there is no one magic strategy that will help every person become happier.  All of us have unique needs, interests, values, resources, and inclinations that undoubtedly predispose us to put effort into and benefit from some strategies more than others” (The How of Happiness, p.69).

Or, in more folksy terms, what’s good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander.  Or is it?

The Gander. That would be my husband, Bob.  This coming Saturday afternoon, he will undoubtedly get a huge happiness boost by once again leading his merry band of ukulele players in the Maple Corner Mardi Gras parade.  I’m guessing that getting into the flow of mastering the ukulele is partly why this experience gives him joy.  Also, I know he appreciates this opportunity to contribute to our community’s vitality.  Because performing makes his uke brothers and sisters happy too, by organizing this event, Bob further benefits by giving them this gig.

That's Bob in the Hawaiian shirt in the 2012 Maple Corner Mardis Gras

That’s Bob in the Hawaiian shirt during the 2012 Maple Corner Mardi Gras Parade

Plus, of course, it is just plain fun and not really something that needs to be analyzed.

The Goose is me.  I joined Bob in the parade last year, playing the only instruments I can even begin to handle (kazoo and tambourine); I may march again this year.  But, I’m excited about something radically different this coming Saturday morning:  a gun control rally in front of the Vermont Statehouse in nearby Montpelier.  Fun is not my strong point, alas.  I’m more in my element as a rabble rouser — or, as I might reframe it in positive psychology terms, I really like “having a purpose.”

At the Vermont statehouse for a 2011 Occupy protest.

That’s me at the Vermont statehouse for a 2011 Occupy protest.

These differences between my husband and me play out most Sunday mornings.  While I head off to sing in the church choir and get a weekly booster shot of support in leading a good life, Bob heads for his ping pong club and several hours of very vigorous exercise with his buddies.  His table tennis time is just as sacred to him as my church attendance is to me.

These musings reminded me of the following section on the Pursuit-of-Happiness website about Martin Seligman and different levels of happiness:

“Seligman’s bottom line is that happiness has three dimensions that can be cultivated:

1. ‘The pleasant life’ is realized if we learn to savor and appreciate such basic pleasures as companionship, the natural environment and our bodily needs.
2. We can remain pleasantly stuck at this stage or we can go on to experience ‘the good life,”’ which is achieved by discovering our unique virtues and strengths and employing them creatively to enhance our lives.
3. The final stage is ‘the meaningful life,’ in which we find a deep sense of fulfillment by mobilizing our unique strengths for a purpose much greater than ourselves.”

Writing this blog, and looking at my husband’s and my choice of activities through the lens of Seligman’s three levels of happiness, I now see that what’s good for the gander can indeed be good for the goose — just not in the way I’ve interpreted this cliche before.  I always thought it meant the goose and the gander should be doing and liking the same things.  Now, I see that by doing and liking different things, the goose and the gander can help each other expand and enrich their levels of happiness.

Nearly everything I’ve read about what makes people happy stresses the importance of relationships, and good connections with others.  Perhaps one reason this is so is because other people inevitably provide us with more varied happiness opportunities.   We help each other cultivate different dimensions of happiness.

I definitely need to nurture “the pleasant life”  more.  Bob helps me be more playful, and that is definitely a good thing.  So … hand me a kazoo.  And see you at the rally.

So Many Ways To Give

No, this is not an early Christmas essay about handmade gifts or alternative holiday rituals.   Rather, I am moved to write about giving and happiness — specifically, my gratitude at finding a way to help survivors of Hurricane  Sandy despite my constrained finances.

In the past, when major disasters struck, my normal reaction was whipping out my American Express card and charging a donation, or several donations to organizations with complementary missions.    Of course, that was a good thing to do.  Indeed, just this morning NPR broadcast a story on the desirability of sending money rather than stuff to assist Sandy survivors.   Making a cash donation gave me a happiness boost, and, much more importantly, helped the recipients on their long road to recovery.

Right now, though, the American Express route isn’t viable.  I am not yet making enough money through my happiness work to shoulder my share of our household bills.  No complaints,  I’m sure I’ll get there — but in the meantime, I’ve put a lot of financial stress on my husband.  I’ve got to fix things on the home front before sending money elsewhere.

Still, I wanted so much to help.  I  believe the suffering families in New Jersey and New York are victims of climate change, something each and every one of us contributes to — which is to say, I feel a sense of obligation to them.  What could I do?

The answer came late last Saturday afternoon.  Through an email list serve, I learned of a truck leaving Montpelier for the Rockaways the following afternoon.  This driver had a list of requested donations, including blankets.  Blankets!  Yay, I had  several extra warm and cozy blankets which I washed, dried, folded, bagged, and delivered to the truck driver.  Small though this gesture is in light of the need, I was nonetheless grateful for this opportunity to help.

It’s a virtuous cycle.  It’s hard to feel unhappy and grateful at the same time.  And, almost every list of happiness strategies I’ve seen stresses the importance of giving to others as a way to feel better.  I’m willing to bet that Winston Churchill was no happiness expert, but this quote attributed to him does a good job of capturing the importance of generosity: “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

I’m also pretty sure that Mother Theresa was not, alas, very happy, but no one could argue that she wasn’t generous.  She knew that,  “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”

That strikes me as a valuable insight.  Is the giving heartfelt?  If we are grudging or callous, our gifts may help the recipient, but we aren’t likely to get much of a happiness boost.  Not that a happiness boost should be the goal.  While giving can bestow happy feelings on the donor, it really needs to be about the recipient first and foremost.  No strings attached, and certainly not an opportunity to offload unwanted junk for the giver’s own benefit.

A gift from the heart I was so pleased to receive — a heartfelt gift from a four year-old.

Okay, bearing that in mind, I’ve been mulling over ways to give, including cash.  In my community,  some neighbors needed extra financial help recently to pull through some daunting challenges, and many friends and neighbors donated much needed money.  But we also provided meals.  Though I’m not a great cook, I did my best to concoct tasty meals for my friends.  This is stressful for me, thanks to time and money shortages and my insecurity as a cook — yet,  always, I felt really good about having climbed on board the meal train.

Giving can be simple or elaborate.  After the Haitian earthquake, a neighbor up the street organized a fundraising “cabaret” at our community center.  She went to a lot of trouble — hanging curtains, bringing in more intimate furniture, lining up refreshments and musical acts.  The result was memorable, an evening that raised a lot of money for Haiti and strengthened our local community as well.

There was another benefit concert a few years ago for a young family whose house had burned down. Mom, dad, and two toddlers just barely escaped into the -14 degree January night.  In connection with the concert, I solicited donations for a silent auction, which raised another $1,000 or so to help them rebuild.   I am so glad I put the effort into that event; I still feel a special connection to this now happily thriving family.

Last year, when Vermonters were hammered by Tropical Storm Irene, I was especially impressed by the many, many people who pitched in to do the physically hard and unpleasant work of  mucking out nasty flood debris.  For a variety of reasons, I never did that.  I did donate money; went to fundraising concerts; gathered up books to take to help restock a flooded library; and helped my church target monthly congregational giving to both general flood relief and relief for hard-hit farmers.  But, because I didn’t do any of the physical clean up, my efforts never felt sufficient.

Okay, so I’m not a giving super hero — and maybe that’s just as well.  A few months ago, I interviewed Kathryn Blume for an article in Vermont Woman.  “We don’t serve anyone by burning ourselves out,” she told me.  “Any cause we engage in is going to be bigger than we are.  We can give everything we’ve got, and it will still be there.”  An astute observation, for sure.

Last week I interviewed Paula Francis and Linda Wheatley for an article to be published in Vermont Woman  in February.  In early October, Paula and Linda completed a Pursuit of Happiness Walk from Stowe, Vermont to Washington, D.C. — a walk which was filled with giving.  Their gift to others was listening to the heart-felt reflections on happiness from hundreds of regular folks.  In return, they received the gift of witnessing individuals open up and share their hearts.  There were plenty of tangible gifts, too — like the owner of a diner where they had stopped who came running after them to make sure they had pretzels — but the intangibles were what made the walk profound.

So how many ways are there to give?  Is it infinite?  My daughter posted a super cool video on my Facebook wall of a young man performing 22 acts of random kindness to celebrate his 22nd birthday (my daughter proposes making this a new family tradition).  There are a lot of good ideas in here!

While working on this blog, I found an Arab proverb which loops back to my dilemma of what to give if not money AND addresses the “heart” of my message here:   “If you have much, give of your wealth; If you have little, give of your heart.”

How about you?  What does giving mean to you?