What We Get by Giving

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 year, in the face of a 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 December 1, 2020

Tuesday: Call Your Senators!

Enough already. The HEROES Act was passed by the House six months ago, and we’re going into yet another month when the Senate is completely silent about it. So today, pick up the phone and call your Senators (GOP especially) and tell them why YOU think it needs to be passed.

A reminder: the HEROES Act is the stimulus bill that would help everyday Americans and businesses through COVID. Senator Chris Murphy penned a great editorial in the Hartford Courant describing why it’s so important: “This comprehensive bill would increase the amount of forgivable loans available to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program, send another $1,200 check to Americans, extend unemployment benefits, and provide states with the resources they need to contain this virus and prepare a massive vaccination campaign. But Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had no interest in even considering the legislation –– he’s sat on his hands for over six months…”  [Read the whole editorial HERE]

So today, let’s dust our phones off and call our Senators to encourage them to break the gridlock. Our communities need help. We need help. And we know who CAN help.

Sample Script: Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a constituent at [zip code]. I’m calling because it’s been six months since the House passed the HEROES act and there’s been no vote – and no other plan to help Americans. We’re heading into a new year and our community is hurting. What is Senator ______ doing to help our communities? [Wait for answer]. I urge the Senator to do right by the people of [State] and get relief where we need it. It’s the least s/he could do.

Wednesday: Join Gaslit Nation and Swing Left to Write Letters For Georgia!

Yeah, I get it. Everything is about Georgia these days.

Because you know what? Everything hinges on Georgia! So let’s get crack-a-lacking and join up with our friends at Swing Left on Wednesday from 6-8PM (Eastern) to write letters to Georgians. This event is with Gaslit Nation podcast heroines Sarah Kendzior and Andrea Chalupa. Sounds like a *great* and very fun virtual event! Sign up HERE.

Thursday: Phone Bank for GA!

The Ossoff and Warnock teams both have a number of opportunities to phone bank. The Ossoff campaign has created different teams based on where you are calling from. Live in the midwest? Join the Team Ossoff Midwest crew HERE. East Coast? Then THIS link is for you. And you West Coast folks have your own link HERE. There really isn’t a more critical thing for us to be doing right now than doing EVERYTHING possible to elect Warnock and Ossoff, so really this is the priority project from now until January 5.

Friday: Weekend Reading

With the election officially behind us, I’ve been catching up on some reading and hope to share an interesting article or two with you weekly. This week I read The Abrams Playbook – something that I encourage you to also check out, not because it’s about Georgia (I’m really not trying to be singularly focused on that one state – I swear!) but because it’s a great example of the kind of strategic thinking that many of us need to engage in for our own states going into the next cycle.

So, while it’s specific to Georgia, I think a lot of the analysis can be modified and made applicable to whatever state you’re working in. Start looking at your own state’s metrics and see where things can be improved. For those of you who are already getting into these conversations, I think this will be a really helpful read: The Abrams Playbook

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.

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