“Giving makes me feel like I’m living.” – Tuesdays With Morrie (the most meaningful book I have ever read)
Something magical happens when you give. There is an undeniable beauty that emerges when you do things for others without expecting anything in return. The feeling I get from giving brings me greater joy than any stock market boom or a year-end bonus ever could.
And with the holidays behind us and a new year ahead of us, I want to share with you three stories of giving. While they are all seemingly very different, they are equally powerful in my eyes.
Story 1: Going undercover
It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve and I was sitting in a Starbucks sipping on my tea and doing some 2019 goal setting. Not surprisingly, the place was relatively quiet aside for people rushing in to get their caffeine fix before facing their sure-to-be hectic rest of the day.
I walked up to the barista and handed her a $20 bill. “I’d like to pay for the next three customers and you can keep whatever is left over. My only request is that you keep me anonymous.”
She nodded and smiled and I walked back to my table as if nothing had happened. I had the perfect vantage point from where I was sitting and could hardly contain the anticipation I was feeling as I peeked over from behind my laptop screen.
A few minutes later a young woman walked in looking visibly stressed, just like the others before her. She placed her very particular order and took out her wallet from her purse all at once without looking upward. The barista smiled at her and said “Your coffee is free today. Someone has paid it forward.”
She blurted out “WHAT??” without even meaning to and started to giggle uncontrollably. She must have said thank you ten times in the next 20 seconds and then asked how she could pay it forward for the next person. She couldn’t hold back her smile until the time she left. Neither could I.
Next was a husband and wife. They went up to the counter expressionless and clearly in a hurry. Once the barista said those magic words, “paid it forward” it was as if life had been breathed back into the two of them. They both looked around the room as their eyes glowed.
And instead of staring at their phones while waiting for their drinks, they were dancing.
The last recipient was a mother and her young child. Once she learned her coffee was free of charge, the mother proclaimed gleefully, “This has never happened to me before!” Her daughter looked up, perplexed at what had just happened and mom said, “A stranger bought our drinks today sweetie. Remember we talked about how giving is a nice thing to do for people and makes them feel good? This is an example of giving.”
This chain reaction of events elicited powerful and overwhelmingly positive emotions in me as I watched it all unfold.
Now I can never be sure, but I like to believe that these people headed back to their families with smiles on their faces, treated those they love just a little bit better, and had a slightly merrier Christmas because of their Starbucks experience.
And it just so happened to have made my day.
Story 2: Lending a helping hand
I took a solo trip to Portugal this past summer and was on a train heading from Porto to Lisbon. A few stops after I got on, I noticed an elderly Spanish couple with very large bags step on the train and were struggling to lift them onto the overhead compartment. I left my seat and helped them put each piece of luggage up on the shelf. The woman gave me a big smile and a warm “gracias.”
I then waited, knowing that my job was only 50% complete. A few hours later, I saw them get up from their seats and before they could even attempt to retrieve their luggage, there I was bringing their bags down to them.
And while we did not speak the same language, I could not have felt more connected to them. There was an overwhelming feeling of love and mutual appreciation flowing as we just smiled at each other. The old man patted me on the back and gave me a hug with all his might before leaving the train.
That beautiful feeling has stayed with me six months later and I can’t help but smile as I relive it in my mind.
Story 3: Showing you care
A good friend of mine is a CPA and works at a mid-sized accounting firm. Each morning he greets the office secretary with a friendly smile and engages her in conversation throughout the day.
To show his appreciation, he gave her a $50 Visa gift card for Christmas.
She sent him a message a few days later.
“I wanted to thank you for your Christmas gift, but most of all I want to thank you for your friendship. Not many people your age would care about an old woman like me but you have given me the gift no one else could. You have given me friendship and have shown me such kindness and love. You have given me the feeling that I matter in life and make me feel valued.”
Pure joy and excitement poured out from him as he recounted those words to me.
A year of giving
What do these very different stories have in common? They each involved little to no money, but brought out extremely positive and loving emotions not only from the recipients, but also the giver. The size of the gesture doesn’t really matter as long as it comes from the heart.
Look, I am by no means a saint that wakes up everyday thinking of ways to give. I have only recently started to really adopt this mindset and still have plenty of “me, me, me” days. But the fact that I am growing in this area is a big plus for me and I can already feel its impact on my overall happiness.
So as we enter into a brand new year, I suggest you make it a year of giving. Search for ways to give on a more consistent basis: your money, your time, your generosity, your love, your blood, your appreciation, or whatever else you can think of.
And when do you, you won’t be disappointed. You will instead be amazed at what comes back to you in return.
Happy New Year everyone.