Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others. ~Booker T. Washington
The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer someone else up. ~Mark Twain
You’ve seen the videos.
A person panhandling on the street sees someone drop a wallet, and runs after them to return it. The grateful wallet-dropper (who we, the audience, know to be an actor) gives money from the wallet to the kind, down-on-his-luck stranger.
A camera crew then follows to see what the stranger does with the reward.
We’re on the edge of our seats. What will they do with the money? And then we’re moved to tears to see them buy socks, or shoes, or food – that they give, selflessly, to other people on the street.
Their acts of generosity are interrupted by the actor/wallet-dropper, who now steps in to ask what we all want to know. Why would you do that? Why would you give that money away when you so obviously need it for yourself?
Because that’s what you do, is the answer. When you can, you give. And it makes you feel better.
Last month, in the face of the latest mass shooting in Texas, an 11-year-old created the El Paso Challenge – challenging everyone to perform one act of kindness for each of the 22 people murdered. He created the challenge after he told his mother he was afraid to go shopping in his El Paso community; she suggested he find a way to make the city a little better, and the challenge was his brainstorm to do just that.
As he spread the word about his challenge to local businesses, the story got picked up – and went viral. His mom said, “He seems to be doing better and says that hopefully, the world will be a better place with all these random acts of kindness.”
Why did we as a nation eat up that story? Why do we respond so positively to the videos of the generous panhandlers? Why did the 11-year-old feel better after introducing us to his random acts challenge?
It might just be how we’re wired.
In 2017, researchers at the University of Zurich found that even just intending to do something generous makes you feel happy. Researchers promised to give a group of people money in the coming weeks – with a condition. Half committed to spending the money on themselves. The other half committed to spending the money on someone they knew.
After their money had been spent, the researchers surveyed them. The group that had to spend the money on someone they knew was uniformly happier.
Even more interesting? MRIs conducted while the participants considered how much they should give and to whom showed strong interaction between the happiness center of the brain … and the part of the brain that processes generosity.
In other words, just deciding to be generous made them … happier.
Other researchers have found that people who are generous tend to live longer and have better health. Studies of people with high blood pressure showed that spending money on others lowered blood pressure as well as medicine or exercise. (Note that they didn’t consider other, non-monetary ways of helping – the study was limited to what’s referred to as “pro-social spending,” perhaps because that’s the easiest to measure.)
Being selfless is selfish, in a way.
The studies don’t say why our happiness centers light up when we do something generous, but I have my own theories.
There’s power in helping others. You can exert control over your own life by helping others feel comfort – even if you’re uncomfortable.
And right now, as we’re reeling through this era of uncertainty and discomfort, I think it’s important to remember that sometimes the best gift we can give ourselves … is helping someone else.
It’s hard to feel steady, or confident, or assured of anything.
But you do control some of the most important things:
You have complete control over how good you are.
You have complete control over how helpful you are.
You have complete control over how much you look out for others.
You have complete control over to what extent you live your values.
You decide every day what things you’ll do, what actions you’ll take, what effort you’ll exert to help right the ship and to keep your fellow passengers safe in the meantime.
So in these uncontrollable times, remember the control that you do have.
And take it with both hands.
Let’s get to work.
Actions for the Week of September 10
Tuesday: What Do We Want? Background Checks! When Do We Want Them? Now!
Last week, Wal-Mart made a smart decision: asking customers not to open carry in its stores. It was a huge win for the gun reform movement, and we’ve seen a few raised eyebrows from Senators. Now, I’ll believe it when I see it, but even Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) said that he wanted Trump to send some sort of smoke signal as to what he’d be willing to sign so the Senate could get something on his desk.
You’d think a Senator would know how to, you know, pick up a phone and call the White House. But such is the world we live in.
Here’s the thing. Mitch McConnell has been sitting on two pieces of gun legislation that’s supported by a huge majority of Americans and would save hundreds (thousands?) of lives per year. (You can read about the bills HERE.)
Today, Tuesday September 10, Congress will be back in session, and gun reform will be a major topic of discussion. It’s a good day to call and reinforce the need to pass common sense gun laws. We need pressure on this! issue
Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m calling with a message for the Senator. Like a majority of Americans, I agree with common sense gun reform. There are two bills that passed the House and are sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk – both addressing background checks for people who want to buy guns. Neither of those bills is controversial to the American public or the people of this state. What is Senator ___ doing to move those bills? [Optional follow up response: Can you tell me why the Senator is not prioritizing the lives of the people in our state?]
Wednesday: Cool Resource Alert: Down Ballot Races Have Power!
#VoteProChoice has a great new resource out that shows just how much power all of those “down ballot” positions have. If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone who has said – “We can’t do anything about that, XXX makes all the decisions about reproductive rights,” then this is a great resource to have on hand!
If you’re thinking of running for an office, it’s a good one to look at to see what kinds of position you might be interested in running for.
It’s also a great reminder that our government has many levels and many layers, and people can make change in all sorts of ways. Check it out and share! https://smalldeedsdone.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/15a3a-voteprochoice-downballot-report.pdf
Thursday: Enough Is Enough!
Is there an elected official or candidate in your area that doesn’t take sexual harassment or violence against women and children seriously? You can now put that candidate/official on the radar of Enough Is Enough, a project that “conduct[s] research, provide[s] public information, and oppose[s] politicians who have a poor track record on our issues. With your support, [they] will take a stand, hold politicians accountable and ensure violence against women is part of the national conversation”.
Help make violence against women a voting issue by reporting candidates in your area who don’t take violence against women and children seriously. Include newspaper articles, video, or documents – they’ll investigate, and may include that candidate in their target list. Let’s make #metoo a voting issue! https://enoughisenoughvoter.org/report/
Friday: Survey Says…
For a few years now, every Tuesday I’ve meet you here to talk about how we keep moving forward – no matter what is pulling us in the opposite direction. As you can tell, I take Small Deeds pretty darn seriously. And that means that I try to find content and stories that I think you’ll like (or love).
But I’ve never met most of you! So I wanted to get to know you a little better so I can help give you the kinds of content you find pep-talk worthy. So to make that easy, I created this 8 question survey that will take you 3 minutes to complete. (I took it in 1.5 minutes, but I already knew the questions…)
Could you do me a solid and complete the survey?
You’re a rock star!
WHEW! GO, TEAM! SUPER PROUD OF YOU!
P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.
If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!
P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.