I was raised in a small North Carolina town where everyone knew everybody, and at that time, in the mid-1960s, people seemed to genuinely care about their neighbors. My paternal grandmother, Florence, was not a wealthy woman. She worked hard to make sure there was enough food to feed her large family, yet if there were a need in the community—for example, if she heard of a family who were hungry and going without—she would find a way to help. Sometimes this meant taking food from her own table and sharing it with others, which she was thrilled to be able to do. If there were people who, for whatever reason, had become homeless, she opened her home to them.
The joy she experienced helping others showed on her face and in her actions. She beamed when she was able to positively impact another person’s life. Her glow was real. There was no pretense at all. She loved helping others, and as a result, her life was full and rich.
Both my grandmothers, actually, led lives of giving. Looking back, these are the lessons I learned from the examples they set.
1. Giving is its own unique joy.
Cultivating and embracing that fullness and richness of spirit helped me to understand my place in the world. We are often taught that acquiring knowledge, money, health and security are the keys to living a successful life, but it was the benefits of charity, kindness and service to others that both my grandmothers passed on to me, which have proven to supersede those other pursuits. My grandmothers lived by the biblical principle of putting others’ needs ahead of their own. It sounds cliché, but both of these women were the type who gave unselfishly of themselves and received great joy in the process. The end result of giving, no matter how big or small the sacrifice, is a unique joy.
2. Find ways to give on a consistent basis.
Growing up around my grandmothers’ almost daily manifestation of unselfishness made it clear that these were not occasional impulses of charity. They were the work of rigorously devoted hearts. As I sought a career, it was a no-brainer that I would seek out a field wherein I could make a difference in others’ lives. I have spent most of my adult life in positions of service, from working within the ministry to a career in nonprofit child assistance that now spans nearly 30 years. I consider myself extremely blessed that I have opportunities on a near-daily basis to positively impact the lives of children and their families. Even at the end of a long, hard day at the office, I can go home most evenings with the knowledge that I made a difference. My actions provided someone else with hope and opportunity. Perhaps I brought a smile to a child’s face. And that feels good. Just like the work you put into your career, your looks and your bank account, find a way to exercise your ability to do good for someone else on daily basis.
Related: 15 Inspiring Quotes About Giving
3. Giving is an act of power that feeds itself.
Helping others also helps us to find peace, contentment and joy in our own lives. As a firm believer that we—the universal we—are all connected, I have found over the years that when I take an action that benefits another person, I feel fulfilled and good about myself at the core of my being. I feel at one with the universe around me, as if I have found my purpose amidst a world of chaos. I feel like an agent of change, which makes me want to keep giving and continue that cycle. We can give in difficult times. We can reach out to others who are different or far away, because we have confidence that the persistent practice of heartfelt charity, in connection with our universal soul, has given us the spiritual “muscle memory” to do so.
4. Every act of giving changes the world for good.
I believe that we all want to be agents of change. Despite the overwhelming negativity in the news, I truly believe that we all desire to raise one another up. Sometimes, we fail to act simply because we do not know what to do or for whom to do it. In truth, we all have opportunities to touch others’ lives every day. We can do the hands-on work of volunteering at a food bank or homeless shelter, or we can financially support a charity of our choice. Whatever amount of money or time we have available to us, we can find opportunities to begin to change the world around us. Even the smallest act makes a positive impact.
By making the practice of giving part of your life, you’ll discover a sense of contentment and self-worth that may have been missing in your life before. As St. Francis of Assisi said, “For it is in giving that we receive.”