That’s one of the stories that start with “back when I was a little kid”.
I couldn’t have been more than five. The entire family gathered at my grandparents’ home to celebrate Christmas. There was snow. The house smelled like gingerbread. The grown ups were catching up with each other. The kids kept busy discussing their wish lists to Santa. In the midst of the conversation on who hoped for what toy, I made the blasphemous statement that there is no Santa. At the age of five I had a strong suspicion that the person underneath a Santa suit — who paid us annual visit on Christmas — may not be Santa but uncle Jerry. Still, we were always blessed with many presents which begged the question who was the gift-giver. I put the two and two together the best I could and guessed that the gifts came from our respective parents. If I was right, Christmas was an unfair holiday because kids expected and received presents but didn’t give any. That’s how my first gift-giving idea was born.
We had to buy Christmas presents for our parents! (I was smart I knew that presents are bought.) Other kids agreed with me. Unfortunately, we were too young to receive an allowance and none of us had any money. As said, I was smarter than the rest and that’s why I was the only one who remembered where I’ve seen a lot of cash laying around. It was on a tray in the church.
I grabbed my younger and rather passive cousin Peter and we embarked on a walk across the park to the church. The church was large, decorated for Christmas and beautiful. It was also intimidating. It was totally empty, no one except of the two of us was there. The tray with cash however was exactly where I remembered seeing it. I took from it $2 for the gift I planned to buy and another $2 for Peter’s gift shopping. On the way back home, we stepped by a little shop where I bought a beautiful scented soap in a shiny, navy box with an imprinted silver, Eiffel Tower on it. I was all set! (I don’t remember what Peter bought.)
Needless to say, I was very proud of myself: I cracked the mystery of Santa, figured out that we need to buy and give gifts, got the money and the gifts! I was damn good even as a kid, if I say so myself.
Christmas Eve has come and I could hardly eat dinner because I couldn’t wait until we are allowed into the room with a Christmas tree and presents so I could slip my present for my mom under the tree. Just imagining the joy my Mom would have over the pretty soap I’ve gotten her: wow! I expected that she’ll be surprised, proud, happy… The anticipation was killing me.
Finally, the moment arrived and — needless to say — things didn’t go as planned. The only reaction of my mom’s I predicted correctly was her surprise. Other than that we had to learn a lot on this particular Christmas Eve like that taking money that appears to be free for the taking is still stealing… Yes, we were marched back to the church to pay the money back and to apologize… Strangely however none of it dimmed my joy of giving. Spoiled kid as I was, ever since this memorable Christmas I always derived more joy from giving than receiving.
Even though my entry into the world of givers was rather unfortunate, it gave me the first experience of the joy inherent to giving. Giving in a form of a gift, donation, contribution of skills or time is much more rewarding than receiving! One would think that giving depletes the giver, it does the opposite. As much as receiving is passive, giving is active, empowering and gratifying.
Doing good for a person or a cause is not only a nice gesture. It can be a good deed. It is always rewarding not just to the recipient but to the giver, too.
There is so much talk about gratitude today, it became a buzzword. But gratitude has negative side effects: it confirms dependency of one kind or another. Giving confirms positive intent and independence of the giver.
If you want to feel good about yourself don’t wait to get and express gratitude. Give. If you feel weak; if your self confidence has taken a beating; if your heart was broken, if you doubt yourself: GIVE! Giving and / or volunteering have restorative power: they bring joy to the recipient and validation to the giver.
A taker is often perceived as a loser. A giver is always a winner.
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The Benefits Of Giving was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.