As I woke up this morning with my cup of Joe, I contemplated what can I offer today to make this world a better place. Of course I have a long list of ‘to do’s’ that I am having to set aside in order to focus on this task, some are pressing, but I am a strong believer that I need to practice what I preach. The art of meditation is the process of interrupting the mindless worries and responsibilities, to quiet our minds and bodies, to focus on one intention. Yoga is the same sort of endeavor and it is called a practice because it is not always easy to make it happen even for me, it takes P-R-A-C-T-I-C-E. What better time to start then today?! So my blog today is part of this practice, to set an intention to help others.
One of the things that I teach is that giving to others is an excellent way to improve mood and alleviate depression, also create deep fulfillment and well-being which are protective against relapsing back into depression. I started off this morning on Balanced Living’s Facebook page and created a post with a call to action to consider consciously making a plan to give to friends, family, the planet, animals, wherever the heart takes you but the call was for altruism (giving to others at the expense of using some of one’s own resources) and philanthropy (moral motivation to do good in this world) .
Then I thought about today’s blog and I started reviewing research articles. I came across http://www.stonybrook.edu/bioethics/goodtobegood.pdf which is an easy to understand synopsis demonstrating that giving to others improves one’s degree of happiness. Also, I thought about one of my favorite books, ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’ which explores ancient civilizations, philosophers and common maxims that refer to happiness, looking deeper to see if there are proven truths to be found in common proverbial sayings. In summation, those references highlight correlations between degree of happiness and meditation, quiet surroundings, the ability to be still in mind and body; also, being a part of a community, spiritual or otherwise and yes, the process of giving to others improves one’s degree of happiness. A short commute is also not surprisingly given mention as correlated to happiness. Coming from L.A., all I can say is “Amen”.
You see, it makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. We are mammals meant to love and nurture, to commune in order to maximize our shared resources. Our intellect and character features are in part genetically determined and those traits which increase happiness are propagated because happiness leads to longer lives, better relationships, and improved health. This is revealed in the fact that men who are married typically live longer than men who are single, in their later years. Why is that? It is because elderly men tend to be less likely to engage with friends and community when they are single compared to married men while women who are more naturally prone to look to other women for support, don’t have that same pattern. Creating community and relationships causes us to focus on others and that increases health and happiness.
The black widow is a different creature, she has a set of characteristics which lends itself to a more isolationist way of existing and that works for her but humans are communal creatures. When we let are dark moods isolate us we become self-absorbed, often we end up in our own head space with circular thinking and negative self-talk. What if we decided to do things differently today?
What if we woke up in the morning with gratitude that we have the opportunity to make this world a better place. Maybe it is helping a coworker move after work, forgiving someone who hasn’t asked for it, complimenting the Barista at Starbucks; maybe today you can advocate for animals or mentor the unemployed, or maybe just be patient in the grocery store line. If you find that giving to others does in fact cause your worries and sad mood to drift away, then use that tool repeatedly, construct your life in a way where time is allotted and scheduled in to give to others. Also, spontaneously make an effort to meet a need when it presents itself. After all, some of giving is a matter of self-preservation and self-care because guess what, when you give to others, others will give back to you and you no longer feel so alone. First there must be an action (you give) to have the reaction (you receive) and so many people are feeling morose because they are not receiving enough love in their lives. Love comes when it is given.
Now to those who excessively focus on caregiving for others at the expense of tending to their own needs, then I recommend therapy to stay more in balance. Anything in excess is not a healthy coping skill and more often than not, it is more about avoidance of dealing with one’s problems then selflessly helping others. Also, there are times when the depression is just too dark and deep to enact these concepts; for those who struggle on that level, reach out for help from a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist who can empower you to return to a place of strength where you can give.
Today, I offer to you a Sanskrit/ Buddhist mantra which can be sung, ‘Shanti, Shanti, Shanti’ which means peace to mind, body, and soul. This morning I’m walking the walk, interrupting the ‘business’ to give to others because after all, I’m hoping the universe will also commune back to me and present me with happiness today. Let’s see together how this goes.