This is the eleventh in our special “12 Days of Giving” series running for the holiday season. It’s a little different from what you might think of as traditional presents or giving. We aren’t really talking about stuff you buy or a gift list. Rather, on these 12 days, we will be talking about different gifts that you can give to yourself, or others — those that have a deeper meaning, that can help you live with intention, be happier, be healthier. Soul gifts, you might even call them. Join us on the journey.
Yesterday, I wrote about the gift of less: owning less stuff so that it doesn’t own you. How liberating and empowering having less can be; it frees up all kinds of room and time in your life to have MORE of other things.
What kinds of things do most of us want more of in life? What do you want to bring MORE of into your life in the new year?
There’s a bunch of studies that show us that experiences bring far more happiness than things. Instead of spending money on more stuff that we don’t need (and often times don’t even end up really using all that much), what if we used those resources instead to build lasting memories? After all, isn’t that really a huge part of what makes us, our memories? Storing up more great ones with yourself and people you love sounds like a pretty awesome way to live, to me.
Back when I was in high school, all I wanted for my graduation present was to go on a month-long trip around Europe that the Spanish club professor at school was hosting. My parents kind of balked at this, at first (more my father). They weren’t critical or discouraging of it, but I think were more looking at the practical side of spending a couple of thousand dollars on a graduation present that would be “used up” and over with 30 days later. Whereas, that same two grand spent on, say a car or college classes or put into savings, would last a lot longer.
I get that line of thinking, to a certain extent. But I got the trip, because it was the only thing I really wanted. And because I have awesome parents, once they realized that and knew I was serious and passionate about it, they were totally onboard with it. And here’s the thing: that travel experience was a total life-changer for me. It was the first extensive travel I’d done, and the only time I had ever been outside the U.S. except for Mexico. It was also the first major, extended trip I took without my family.
And it was amazing. I got to see Piccadilly Square in London and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. I got to ride a riverboat down the Danube and gaze at medieval castles on the hillsides above, and stand beneath Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. I gathered on my hotel balcony in Rome with three other girls on the trip, celebrating when Italy won an important soccer match and the street below was filled with cars honking and people running the streets with flags and everyone having a grand party.
More than 30 years later, I still think of that trip. It was the catalyst that awakened the huge wanderlust spirit in me, and I’ve traveled all over this world since that time. So, yeah, I’d say that experience was an awesome investment.
You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy incredible moments that form lasting memories and bring joy, and I think that’s a pretty damn good thing to spend resources on.
A video of my travels through the U.S., a “50 by 50” goal I had to visit every state by the time I turned 50!
So, we can’t actually create more time. So far, to my knowledge, time travel machines are just a thing of sci-fi books and movies. Time is really the one thing that is a level playing field for all of us, and the only thing we can’t make more of.
But in some ways, we can sort of create more time when we live with intention. When we think about, at least sometimes here and there, being fully present in the moment. Being mindful is one way to really appreciate the time we do have, and remember that despite the memories of the past and the planning for the future, this one moment that is happening RIGHT NOW is really the only one we have. Ever.
Life can sometimes be isolating. All the connectedness of the world today through technology, all the virtual social media friendships and ability to communicate across great distances — these things have a lot of benefits, I believe, allowing us to connect in a lot of ways that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to. But when used too much or too thoughtlessly, they can become a substitute for real connection. Being aware and careful not to let these online interactions take the place of real, honest to god, in-person connection is a very real danger of the modern world.
So perhaps, as the new year dawns, we can make more commitments to ourselves (and to those in our lives) to make sure we don’t lose those connections, and that we have actual real time with people we care about, as much as possible. Don’t let too much time go by before you get together with that friend you’ve been meaning to, and haven’t seen in too long. Maybe sit down and write an actual letter — you know, that old-fashioned pen and paper kind — and mail it to someone as a nice surprise. When you are with someone, really be with them; not looking at your phone or checking social media.
I think the human race can always use more honest, authentic connection.
Obviously, we would all say that we want more joy, and less sadness or heartache, in our lives. Personally, I think that there are a number of ways in which we can actually manifest more joy and happiness.
Earlier in this 12 Days of Giving series, I wrote about the Gift of Happiness. When I embarked on a 30 days of happiness project a few years ago, I revisited some old tools and beliefs about choosing happiness and ways to cultivate it; and I discovered a whole lot of new (to me) resources for this. There are actually a lot of ways in which we can create more joy and happiness in our lives.
Seeking our own personal happiness may feel, sometimes, as if we are being completely self-absorbed. Is focusing on being happy a selfish act, even self-indulgent?
The Dalai Lama doesn’t think so – he says:
The purpose of our existence is to seek happiness.
Aristotle also said that happiness is the meaning and purpose of life. Psychological research shows, in fact, that unhappy people tend to be the most self-focused and are often socially withdrawn, brooding and even antagonistic. Happy people, in contrast, are generally more sociable, flexible, generous, forgiving and creative; they are also able to tolerate life’s daily frustrations more easily. So perhaps being happy isn’t so selfish; it not only improves our own life, but those around us.
The Greater Good Science Center of UC Berkeley has a great article on The Hows of Happiness, finding that much of our happiness is within our own control. Some would argue that all of it is, but we’ll leave that up to each individual. Not surprisingly, giving is one of their ways for creating personal happiness; here is the complete list in a nutshell, but you’ll want to read the entire article:
- Spend quality time with friends, family and those you’re closest to.
- Forgive, and refrain from holding grudges
- Count your blessings and give thanks
- Practice kindness and give to others
- Get plenty of rest
- Practice mindfulness and in-the-present-moment awareness
More Kindness & Compassion
We could all use more kindness, and we could all give it more, too. This is one area of life in particular where I am a huge believer in the concept of karma. Have you ever noticed that when someone is mean to you or does something kind of shitty, it can have the potential to ruin your day? Maybe someone cuts you off in traffic, or a cashier is surly to you. Maybe it’s more personal, and someone close to you does or says something hurtful.
Not only do these moments have the potential to really get us down for an hour, a day, or much longer — they also can start a very negative “pay it forward” effect. Suddenly we’re pissed off at that driver, so we tailgate the next person or don’t let them merge in. Someone gives us a really bad attitude or we have a real crap day at work, and we come home and snap at our partner or our kid.
Look, all of this is natural and understandable. Believe me, I’m the last person to preach about this or act as a role model; when I get stressed about things, it’s often hard for me to let it go. But I also know how important it is to at least try to do so, and to be mindful and intentional about how I’m feeling and what I’m doing with it. Am I holding on to it? Am I letting one moment steal my joy, impact my relationships, or infringe on my ability to have a great day anyway?
What if we all tried a little harder to pay it forward a different way? What if we operated on a “random act of kindness” philosophy? I was just having a conversation in the car yesterday on this very topic, with my grandson Jude. We were talking about doing nice things for someone else “just because,” even if they aren’t in a position to pay you back or do anything for you. He’s only 7, but he totally got the idea of paying it forward, saying that if we gave some food to a homeless person, maybe one day that person would have something where they would be able to help someone else.
What a wonderful world it would be, if we all could make an effort to do this just a teeny, tiny bit more.
One last note about kindness and compassion, that I have worked hard on the past decade or two and that I feel is very important: We also need to practice that loving-kindness towards ourselves. We need to make sure that we have compassion for ourselves. Often, we are our own harshest critics, and a lot harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else. Give yourself a break. Allow yourself to feel negative emotions, and work through them. Allow yourself to be where you are now. Give yourself permission to make mistakes, to not be perfect. It’s okay. You’re only human. You’re learning and growing, just like the rest of us. You are good enough, just the way you are.