Recently we unpacked the benefits of self-care and why it’s crucial to tune into our own needs, priorities and well-being. In this post, however, I want to switch gears and talk about another side of the coin: generosity to those around us.
This time of year, it can be so tempting to lose ourselves in that frenetic shuffle of the holidays—but when we take even just a moment to pause and re-center our gaze on other people, it’s like a breath of fresh air. There is no denying that in 2020, we have seen both violence and injustice toward human life. But we have also encountered selfless, kind, heroic generosity in its purest form.
The first responders who charge onto the scene of a crisis, though it would be easier to back away. The doctors and nurses who devote their energy to the health of others, often at the risk of their own. The protestors of all races and colors who march together for the common belief in a more equal society. The essential workers who continue to teach our next generation, restock our grocery aisles, sanitize our public areas, and keep our communities safe in the midst of uncertain times.
Not only do these generous acts fill me with hope, they also make me wonder: just as self-care is vital to our physical and emotional wellness, is the same true of generosity? If we allocated more of our time, attention and resources to the people we come in contact with, could this enhance our own lives too?
I call it “their-care,” and while I’m no mental health expert, my intuition tells me it can make an enormous difference in our outlooks, values and contributions in the world. Their-care doesn’t have to be some grandiose performance either.
The most basic of actions can raise another human’s spirit like you might not even realize. A smile and wave to your neighbor on the street. A phone call to that relative or friend you lost touch with. A handwritten “thank you” note to the postal worker who delivers your mail or the DoorDasher who brings your Chinese takeout. An offer to run errands for an older person so they don’t need to leave the house. A trip to Starbucks to grab your cubicle mate’s favorite seasonal drink on the commute to work. A donation to an inspiring non-profit or the local food bank in your area. Whatever feels sincere to you—pass it on to someone else!
Turns out, there’s a science to generosity as well. Research shows this trait has been wired into our species from the earliest periods of human existence when survival hinged on the bonds of relationship, collaboration and interdependence.
While we have not always treated each other in prosocial ways (talk about an understatement!) throughout history, this instinct to be generous is still part of our chemical makeup. In fact, generosity activates the same pleasure centers in the brain that respond to sexual arousal. Weird but scientific nonetheless.
All innuendos aside, I think each of us can brighten the lives of those we cross paths with this holiday season. I think we can balance our personal needs with our investment in others. I think we can commit to prioritizing both self-care and their-care for the rest of this year—or even beyond.
I think we can love one another because…why not? We have nothing to lose but an entire world of connection and camaraderie to gain.