An important lesson I’ve learned from working in the nonprofit world all of my life is that giving is the way we fill ourselves up. In my life, the way to fill up is through service and sharing and getting myself to give more than I feel comfortable giving.
It’s a paradox. If we are afraid of not having enough, we think we need to hold on tightly to what we have and work hard to get more. When is enough enough? Is $5,000 enough? $50,000? $100,000? $1 million? A recent study found that no matter how much money people made, they thought they would be happier if only they had more. Whether they made $20,000 a year or $200,000, everyone thought they needed a bit more.
If we turn around and give instead of hoarding everything, we suddenly experience the abundance we do have. Most of us, particularly those of us living in Western societies, have a great deal, and when we share what we have, we feel our abundance.
The wonderful thing about giving is that you can’t help but experience a good feeling when you do it. We are social creatures. We’re made to live within the company of others, and initiating that connection and making it concrete, just feels good in and of itself. When we get narrowly focused on just ourselves, we lose track of the sense of connection to others that helping gives us and instead experience isolation and loneliness. Far too many of us are stuck in that state today. Cut off from enough meaningful contact, we drift alone in the universe. No matter our circumstances, we can always experience human connection simply by reaching out to help someone else. When it comes to connecting, what you give is what you’ll get.
By focusing on getting, we remain forever empty. By focusing on giving, we become full. This idea is hard to accept because it goes against our cultural upbringing. I know that part of me is still convinced that the hole is not filled because I just haven’t gotten the right things. If I did, then I would be happy.
This approach is not surprising, considering we live in a culture that survives on our consumerism. The economy booms when sales surge because we’re throwing our money around; the economy falters when sales drop because we rein ourselves in. Every single day, on the radio, TV, Internet, billboards, magazines and newspapers, we are encouraged and enticed to buy, buy, buy. Brilliant people create very sophisticated ads to convince us that if only we had this car, this computer, this Internet server, this toothpaste, or this brand of soap, we would be happy and fulfilled. It’s only natural that we are focused on getting the red Porsche, the 4,000 square foot house, or the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
Our desire will never disappear, because stuff can’t fill the hole, no matter how much we get. Books and magazines are always filled with stories of folks who “had it all” and yet were miserable. Our desires may change – we get the beautiful girl, the horse or the million dollars from the lottery, so now we want more friends, a child or a vacation home in some exotic place – but they don’t go away because desire is a natural part of the human condition. The problem isn’t with out desire but in thinking that the things we desire will fill the hole.
Try opening your heart and giving, particularly when you feel the hole in the center of your being. Magically it disappears, at least for a little while, as the love from your heart pours into it, and into the world.
When we give, we take our place in the order of things and we experience our deep connection to all of nature. Giving is natural; we don’t have to hoard it. In this cycle, it’s as though we are standing in a giant line, receiving with one hand and passing what we received on to the next. Giving of ourselves and our resources is a profound reminder that we are not separate from the natural world but an integral and responsible part of it.