Rarely has a year dawned with such trepidation and hope.
The end to the COVID-19 crisis is within view. Or more accurately, we can see the beginning of the end to this crisis. A few effective vaccines are coming on board, and we are applying some of the lessons we learned from nearly a year’s experience with the virus in our public and private lives.
That does not mean it is any easier. This holiday season was a heartbreaker for many of us who were not able to see loved ones, particularly difficult for those who lost someone close to them last year.
On top of it all, the reaction to the virus has deepened a division in this country unlike most of us have seen in our lives.
In the cold, dark, lonely winter, we feel these aches a little bit deeper, making it easy to steep in this melancholy.
There is a way we can help ourselves and others through these difficult days.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Raise self-esteem.
- Diminish depression.
- Reduce stress levels.
- Lengthen life.
- Increase happiness and satisfaction.
What does all this? Generosity, according to research compiled by the Cleveland Clinic.
“I can recall giving my daughter a dollar to buy a gift for us during the holidays in elementary school,” said clinic psychologist Scott Bea. “When she returned home, she couldn’t wait to give us the gift she picked out. In fact, she insisted we open it immediately.”
We have all known this feeling, when we selected something we knew would be the perfect gift for someone. It is almost as if we got more out of it than the receiver did. We thought about the person long enough to know what would suit them. We found the thing and imagined the person having, using or attending whatever it is. Then we saw the person receive it — and we have that moment forever.
How often have we spent money on ourselves to purchase just the right gift, only to have the thing sink into the clutter? Sure, spending on experiences is better, but even more satisfying is sharing that experience.
In this Giving Forward issue of the magazine, we are showcasing the many ways people help others, particularly those suffering in relation to COVID-19. Managing Editor Susan Rupe rounded up several stories of creative giving in this month’s magazine.
Also in this month’s interview with Publisher Paul Feldman, Greg Gagne revealed how one person’s kind generosity propelled him into a successful financial and insurance career. Most of us have been on both sides of this.
Most of us needed a hand when we were low, and sometimes one showed up. Usually we had to put ourselves out there and say what we needed to get it. I can think of a few people who did that for me, still unaware of what help they were to me.
That is the thing about kindness and generosity — we have to do it without ever knowing the effect, because it ripples beyond our scope.
Sometimes we are lucky enough to see the effect, as it did for me when I was visiting a former colleague in Los Angeles who I hadn’t seen in decades.
Sarah and I sat on a bench on a typically beautiful day in Pasadena, reminiscing about when we knew one another in cloudy, chilly Central New York. After catching up on our lives since, she turned to me and surprised me with an observation.
“You are the reason I am a writer.”
I was sure Sarah was just being nice, but she was insistent. I was the features editor of the small city newspaper where she worked as a copy editor. She had not planned to work at a newspaper, having focused on the arts in college.
Sarah had a deep knowledge of classical music and popular culture, along with a sharp, challenging wit that she loved to wield. I needed more writers to cover arts events, so I suggested that she cover one on occasion. After some hesitancy, she did. Her copy was a bit rough at first, but I and other editors worked with her. I had left the paper soon after and did not realize that she became a reporter and columnist.
I just saw an opportunity that was worth an investment. We needed more women and younger people writing for the paper, and it seemed like a no-brainer that she should be writing.
I had not remembered doing that until she had reminded me. Then I recalled making the observation that she had raw talent, specialized knowledge and a unique voice. I also remembered working with helping her figure out how to organize a typical review. It took time and patience, and although I didn’t have a lot of either, I thought it was worth doing.
Sarah revealed this to me at a moment when I could have used it most. My father had recently died, and I had cleared out his room in an assisted living facility near where Sarah lived. I did not even recognize that I was in one of those “what’s it all for?” moments.
It’s for everybody else, all the generations our actions radiate through. It’s ultimately for ourselves because we are wired to help others.
Many of us are in a dark place right now. But even if you are not, somebody close to you is and you are not aware of it.
Assume it is everybody who can use your help, because we all need a hand, even when we might not realize it ourselves.