Have you ever noticed that when you give to others you feel better about yourself?
There’s a reason for that. As human beings, we’re hard wired for connection.
There are two basic human needs, intimacy and ultimacy. We have an innate desire to create meaningful connections while we’re on this planet and to make a contribution that outlasts our stay on it. The problem is that we get ourselves so mired in our busyness that we forget how great it feels to help others. Whether serving soup at a shelter, holding your friend’s hand at the doctor or shoveling your elderly neighbor’s walk, performing an act of kindness gives you a quick hit of the connection and meaning we all crave.
It touches a part of you that most of us are inclined to ignore in our well-intended push to be efficient and effective. My children and I feed the homeless every Christmas. It’s not the hugest thing in the world. I don’t know that it changes any of the recipients’ lives in a meaningful way. But it has certainly been very meaningful to us. We started doing it a few years back with some neighbors who asked us to join them. It’s since become our most important holiday tradition. We meet at 5 AM, gathering up blankets, coats, hats, coffee, OJ and muffins, along with a few hundred hot ham and sausage biscuits (which means we wake up at 3 AM to make same said biscuits.) We pile into our minivans and head downtown to set up card tables of food and clothes near where the homeless sleep.
The first year we did it, I started the morning in efficiency mode. I wanted to get as much stuff to as many people as I could. However, I quickly realized that the people I was pouring coffee for needed a human connection just as much as they needed a warm coat. So I slowed down. I looked them in the eyes. I asked about their lives. I listened to their stories. In the process, I felt myself becoming kinder, more empathetic, and more connected. Connected to them and to the most soulful part of myself; connected by the common humanity that we all share. They were homeless, and I was standing outside my aging minivan giving them juice. But a flip of the cosmic cards and it could have just as easily been the other way around. We chatted as if we were neighbors, and in the truest sense of the word, we are. The lesson was not lost on my children. I thought that when we came back to our warm, safe house with presents under the tree, we would feel guilty.
Instead we felt grateful. The day moved slower. We looked at each other more deeply, and we appreciated each other more. In short, we felt more love. I’m not so naïve as to think a few sausage biscuits changes a person’s life. The homeless need more than just a coat and coffee, and Christmas isn’t the only time they’re hurting. But human connection matters. It changes us. I hope that you give money to charity. In fact, I hope that you are adding a few zeroes to a check right now. But give yourself a gift as well.
Do something that enables you to make a personal connection with people. It might not change them, but it will surely change you. And who knows what will happen after that?