There is nothing so powerful as doing something for someone else. That’s what this holiday season used to be about but rarely is, which is why this holiday season is so stressful. But I will again share with you a story that continues to move and inspire me every year.
I help coordinate an Empty Bowls Event which is a fundraiser where a lot of potters and other artists donate their works, but the focus is on bowls. The bowls are sold and with each bowl purchase a simple soup kitchen type meal of soup and bread is served to remind us lucky ones that there are others whose only meal is what they get that day from a soup kitchen or pantry. Empty Bowls events were started in 1969 in a Michigan High School and occur all around the world today. The money raised is donated to food pantries and soup kitchens in the surrounding area. One year a woman came in to the event with three children and bought just one bowl. That would only entitle them to one bowl of soup. I offered this woman an extra three soup tickets so all the children could eat. She refused this, and explained to me that her family was one of the “customers” of the food pantry, and she wanted to teach her children that no matter how poor one is, there is always a way to help others. A powerful lesson for her children, and incredibly moving to myself, by teaching her children to think of others instead of themselves, what they do have instead of what they don’t , and what they can do for others is a lesson in power and wealth.
Extending kindnesses to others no matter how dire our situation continues to be a path to internal wealth and happiness. When we are encountering the people in Santa hats ringing their Christmas Bells by the Salvation Army Pot, it’s so easy to see who is doing it because they “have to” and others who are full of happiness and joy! The ones singing and really trying to spread the joy of the season are people who themselves are joyful about so many things; they may be joyful to have a job, joyful to give back to the organization that helped them off the streets or gave them a roof over their head, or joyful in their sobriety. We forget and take so much for granted every day and focus far too much on what is missing from our lives. An attitude adjustment and a change in our moods can be obtained so easily from taking our focus off what we don’t have and looking outwards.
I remember in my early years of working in Psychiatric Nursing, people always asked me if working with depressed people wasn’t depressing to me. On the contrary, the more depressed I was or upset about something in my personal life, going to work put it all in perspective for me. As sad as I was, I was still able to function, and like the lady buying the soup bowl, I was grateful because I still had something to give, I could still function in spite of how miserable I felt, and the people who received my efforts were appreciative. Feeling useful helps us feel better about ourselves.
Nowadays, there have been numerous research studies, many out of the University of California Berkeley, that have measured the effect of extending kindnesses to others on our own self esteem and happiness. And one of the easiest and fastest ways to improve your own daily happiness is to do something for others. Even thinking about how you can do something for someone else can begin to put a smile on your face and change your perspective. Paying the road toll for the person behind you, buying the coffee for the person behind you, handing a free coupon to someone for an item you have extra coupons for…..there are millions of ways we can do something for someone else which will brighten your day. Make that phone call to someone you know is alone. But do something! It’s the not doing and the “shoulds” that drag us down. Even in the course of working, a kind word about how well someone is doing their job can provide a nice lift for someone else.
Being connected to others and feeling useful in our daily lives, even when it’s because we’ve done something small for someone else, can go a long way in improving our happiness and our self esteem, and our efforts even combine to help make this life of ours and this world we live in better for others. Now that’s power!