Many of those that are going through significant struggles tend to be the most in tune with life’s vitality, and appreciative of the little things.  Those with more tend to not slow down enough to recognize all the good and blessings they have in their life. Those that give back receive many unexpected gifts, and one of those gifts is the gift of slowing down to recognize all the love, abundance, and good in their lives.  These valuable lessons reward both parties in the giving equation, with indescribable feelings of grateful appreciation and thankful joy.

As part of my Saturday mornings several years back, my purpose was to give back to my community where I could, in different ways.  I used to ride in a small moving truck filled with furniture. No, I was not working for a furniture company or a moving company. I was volunteering at a not-for-profit called, Gifts of Love in CT, where donated items are re-gifted to people in need.  In particular, they’re given to people who are trying to start over, many of whom are looking for a second chance.  These people are just like us, just as human as any of us reading this, and have basic human needs, just like we all do.  

At first, these visits across Connecticut were eye-opening, and even a bit frightening to me.  I was nervous at times, thinking I would not make it home that night. I specifically recall one morning where we pulled down the street and parked the truck before nine in the morning.  Twenty or more people were milling around the truck, eager to get a piece of the action, and asking us what we had for them. I read the situation as threatening. We anxiously located the apartment complex further down the road, where we planned to bring several chairs, beds, a dining room table set, and other household items.  The tension subsided after our leader showed the people, who were pressed against the truck, the paperwork with our plans to bring “gifts of love” into an apartment in their neighboring building. To my amazement, people began cheering, and asking how they could get on the list for the next delivery. The energy was awesome and positive.   This was a serious learning moment for me. I had jumped to the wrong conclusions and pre-judged their intentions. The truth was, we were the ones disrupting their morning.

When we carried the furniture up the four flights of stairs, it made me think deeply.  The environment around me was the trigger for my thinking — the intense smell of marijuana that was ever-present, the fact I was walking over broken glass, and hearing screaming from one of the floors above.  On my second trip up, I carried a bed into a bedroom and began to notice the kids around the apartment. The next couple of trips included chairs for the living area. As I was setting a chair down, I heard someone crying.  It was one of the five children, who was saying to his mommy something like, “Everyone has a chair to sit in,” and “I have a bed to sleep on,” as he sobbed tears of joy over their new “riches.” This boy let his emotions flow. To me, he was releasing some of the sadness that had been built up within him, and allowing some joy to creep back into his life.  It was like this little boy’s equilibrium of emotions was starting to come back into balance. As I headed back to the truck for another item, my heart started to fill with many of my own emotions.   

Later, standing in my kitchen, I felt both a sense of sadness and gratefulness.  As I recounted this story with my wife, I began to sob, feeling deeply for that child and so many others like him.  I couldn’t even talk anymore and wept in her arms. I cry every time I think about and tell this story, as I am right now.  I hurt as I thought about so many children out there who are simply looking for a chair to sit in, and a safe environment in which they can thrive.   As I explore my emotions from this day and other days where I was giving back, it helps me restore my balance in life, and fuels me to give more. I know I cannot help everyone.  However, I believe if we all helped someone in need, then we all would be taken care of. Lifting up someone who needs help has both an instant and long-lasting effect on our well-being, too.

And the person doing the giving gets something rich and substantive out of the action as well.  Research has shown that it brings on better social connection, gratitude, positivity, and even happiness. 

Recently, I was in a heart-warming conversation with a good friend, and she was telling me all the wonderful things she and her husband do with their kids in helping our community.  In one of their activities, she was sharing how they commit a few hours each Friday morning, driving food to people in need as part of the Healing Meals Project.  Ali mentioned that the project’s mission is to provide healthy organic meals to people in a health crisis, and to foster compassion for many in our communities.  She went on to say that there is this emotional connection that overcomes her as she is giving back in the community. It sparks these indescribable feelings, and warms her heart.  Ali described her experiences about how appreciative these people are, even in their most vulnerable hours and darkest days.

It humbles her to see these people with such appreciation and joy, which in turn helps remind her of all the gifts we each have in life.  Even with life being so busy and although she has so much on her mind, she loves driving around on Fridays, because these moments help her slow down and truly reflect on what is most important. She passionately shared with me, “We are so lucky and have so much to be grateful for… we have to give back because people need it and because it truly fills our soul. Sometimes I just drop food and never see people, and other times I talk to the person outside for 20 minutes. At times I pull the car over and have a good cry!”  What a gift to Ali and her family to feel this enlightenment and innate human connection from their selfless giving back to others. 

Another recent event occurred that gave me a huge smile, and that will help provide several kids with a smile in the future.  I was proud to see the 2019 Little Smiles Florida Bamboozle scavenger hunt in Florida, where hundreds came out for a fun day, and raised money to make it possible for Little Smiles’ professionals to add joy to the lives of the children they care for.  It is a gratifying concept to think that we get back what we put out, in ways and at times we least expect.  Little Smiles helps professionals give kids in their care the opportunity to be kids and to have some joy during difficult times.  Nicole, the Executive Director of Little Smiles of Florida says that giving back “puts life in perspective for me.”  She added, “These kids have overcome such difficult circumstances, and still greet you with the purest hugs and hellos. Each child we serve and each smile we create just pushes me to want to do more!”

Take a moment each day and ask yourself what little or big thing in your life you are most grateful to be blessed with.  Then think of a way to give back. I encourage you to find a way to help someone in need. It is a game-changer that will enhance the lives around you, including your own, in ways that bring us all closer together. 

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