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Living and Giving

"So what can I get?"

Her reply humbled my heart

"Ask, 'What can I give?'"

In my college class yesterday we reflected on our tendency to ask ourselves, "What do I want?"; "What can I get?"; "What's in it for me?" These are good questions that help us to respect and responsibly care for ourselves. We may need to set limits and draw boundaries for protection from those who would harm and oppress us.

Our lives are also enriched when we see the many opportunities to give and serve. Ancient sources of wisdom like the Bible assure us that "It is more blessed to give than to receive." The Dalai Lama reminds us that giving benefits both receiver and giver: "If you want to be happy, practice compassion."

Many people today are so lonely and empty, feeling that they need something to make their lives better. Like great spiritual teachers, our elders may have tried to teach us to find contentment in the small things in life. But we're trapped in a never ending cycle of desire and a feeling of not having enough, believing that if only we could get certain big things in life then we would happy.

It may help to know that there is evidence that acts meant to improve the well-being of others leads to greater happiness for givers. Psychology research tells us that one of the best ways to enhance our health is to actively contribute to the lives of those around us. Well-being increases when these acts are associated with concretely framed goals as opposed to abstractly framed ones. So science supports spiritual teachings and life lessons from ancestors that responding to the daily opportunities for little acts of kindness brings us joy and a sense of meaning and purpose.

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