The Gift of Giving
Month 1 - Exploring how and why 'giving' makes us happy
“Am I in the right place?”
“I have no idea, Heidi” I said as I shovelled my remaining sandwich into my mouth “I haven’t even left the house yet. What’s the time?”
“Crap…I’m on my way”
That was how my first happiness club began. I would love to be able to tell a story of how organised and prepared I was, of how the lead up to Sunday was all beautifully and effortlessly managed; but that’s just a fantasy. It’s just not me. I am and will forever be (as my mother would say) a ‘last minute Minnie’.
Thankfully I did manage to get to our meeting point, the gorgeous Castle Park in Colchester, in time to meet this months happiness explorers to talk about and trial how ‘giving’ can make us happy.
Prior to meeting, we had all chosen a book that had impacted on us in a positive way, and registered it on the Bookcrossing.com website. Discovering bookcrossing was like uncovering a whole new world. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a way of donating your preloved books but also of tracking the journey they make across their lifetime. You register your book and are given an ID number. You write this on the inside cover with a little message and release it into the wild (leave it somewhere) a park bench; a café; a train station, for example. Then sit back and wait for a little alert that your book has been ‘caught’ and read messages from the person who caught it. It’s joyous and took me back to a long forgotten and childlike feeling of the wonder of magical lands and treasure trails.
A group of eight of us (plus one gorgeous two year old) shared details of the books we had chosen and why they were important to us. The two year old didn’t; she can’t read. As people shared their stories a kind of stillness fell over the group as we listened to each other intently. There’s something so powerful about really listening to each other, it was almost tangible.
We then had some more tea (well, we are British) and started to talk in depth about the power of giving, how it makes us feel and in what ways we can take action to give more during the following month. This is where the discussion got really interesting. We talked about the things we had done and the things others had done for us that made us really happy, and a three key themes emerged as the ingredients for giving with joy:
1. Have no expectation of the gift being reciprocated
Be it time, money or even just a phone call, giving feels best when we do it without any expectations and purely for the joy of making someone else’s day.2. Give small things - preferably through the post!
This isn’t about grandiose gestures, but tapping in to that feeling of getting a postcard or a note from a friend, for no reason, other than to let them know you think they are great.3. Give things with real thought
Remembering your friend has a hospital appointment and sending them a text to check how they got on; the sorts of day to day stuff we forget about but that’s really important.
We all agreed that when we give in this way, we are filled with a genuine and lasting sense of happiness that’s hard to beat.
Before we all left to release our books into the wild we each made a pledge; something we would do in the month ahead to give more. It was at this point it dawned on me that in all the planning and preparation for the group, it hadn’t occurred to me to think about how I would give more. Suddenly on the spot, I pledged to give a little more of my thoughts and time to those closest to me; the odd text or call just to say hi. I know I can be guilty of taking for granted some of my nearest and dearest and want to remedy this, and see what difference it makes.
Some of the other club members had clearly given this much more thought than me, and came up with some wonderful pledges. Eddie (who happens to have a very large garden) pledged to create a community gardening project, allowing people to use his land to grow and share produce. But my favourite was from Bronwyn, who pledged to make a pack of little postcards saying something very simple and along the lines of ‘I think you are Ace’ and sending them to her friends.
We left our little happiness club in a bit of a happy bubble, grateful of the reminder of the things that are truly important in life, and how the gift of giving just keeps on giving.
Look out for next months happiness club blog for the results of our experiment in giving and follow the Colchester Happiness Project on Facebook.