Self-Generosity

This post was originally published in December 2017.


At this time of year, life can get overwhelming. There are social, familial, and professional obligations that all demand our full attention. While these demands don’t go away, they do seem more urgent at the end of the calendar year.

It is easy to get caught up in these demands and struggle to prioritize them (and sometimes they don’t allow for reasonable prioritization). It leaves a person feeling frazzled, burnt out, and hating the holiday season.

That isn’t the case for everyone, but I am sure we’ve all had moments in life where we would like to skip straight to January 2nd and move on with our lives.

We’ve run into others who feel this way: try going into a mall around this time of year. I’ll just leave it at that.

Piling on top of the usual life demands are calls for generosity from various organizations at the end of the year. Commercials are filled with pathos-based appeals to get the viewer to donate to various causes. Religious leaders ask their people to open up their wallets and give money, toys, or time to those who are less fortunate. Stories of tragic events lead to calls for donations of food, items, and blood. Passive social pressures increase: social media pages are flooded with posts from others announcing their generosity.

It gets extremely overwhelming.

The issue is, that when we think about the term “generosity” we think about it as giving to others. But look at the definition of the word:

Generosity
nounplural generosities.

1. readiness or liberality in giving.
2. freedom from meanness or smallness of mind or character.

3. a generous act:
   We thanked him for his many generosities.

4. largeness or fullness; amplitude.

Dictionary.com

Nowhere in the definition does it specifically define generosity as an act we give to others. It is an act of giving and love, but with no defined recipient.

When we get caught up in the minutiae we completely forget about the importance of taking care of ourselves. We are told that we should be generous with our time and care for others, but it’s extremely hard to care about another person if we don’t take care of ourselves.

If we care for our own needs first we can be more effective for others. And when everything becomes too overwhelming, we might be able to see through it with less stress and frustration.

The Importance of Self-Care

I saw this quote posted on a friend’s Facebook wall and it was the foundation for this post. I kept the original formatting:

self care isn’t always lush bath bombs and $20 face masks. sometimes, it’s going to bed at 8pm or letting go of a bad friend. it’s forgiving yourself for not meeting your impossible standards & understanding u are worth it. self care isn’t always luxury, but a mean for survival

Cheerful Nihilism

Self-care quotes, personal revelations about self-care, articles expounding self-care all make the rounds on a fairly frequent basis. Some of them connect with us and others we either ignore or go, “yeah, if only it was that easy.”

All the wisdom in the world about self-care/self-generosity does not mean anything if it doesn’t connect with you. And let’s be blunt about the quotes/revelations/articles: they aren’t saying anything new. It’s all steeped in common sense.

We just need them to remind us every so often.

I am not an expert that can espouse pearls of wisdom of how to better take care of yourself, but I do recommend that you be more generous to yourself. Allow yourself to be more selfish.

But this isn’t the same when we think about being selfish. This is a loving selfishness.

Recognize that you need to take care of yourself before you can care for others. The Mayo Clinic recommends that caregivers take care of themselves first before they take care of others. They acknowledge that a person must be selfish if they are going to be an effective long-term caregiver.

Everyone is a caregiver. For some, it’s for another person; for everyone, it’s themselves. We all must care for ourselves.

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The Big & the Little Things

For the month of November, I am taking each day to highlight some element in my life that I want to express my gratitude about. This could be something deeply personal or just a passing appreciation for something more superficial. 


It always feels weird “counting one’s riches” because it seems like bragging, but I think it’s important to acknowledge the objects I have to make my life easier.

A lot of gratitude exercises focus on the internal and intangible, which to be fair are things that should hold deeper meaning in our lives, but something could be said for the objects we possess. The trap is when someone focuses on what they have, they can also see what they lack which can cause frustration and undermine the whole exercise.

Avoiding that trap, I want to focus my gratefulness for my basic possessions. I think it’s important to look at what I have and where I am in life because every person is one or two decisions/disasters away from losing these objects.

Living Arrangements

I am lucky enough to live in a house, though if you’ve ever had a conversation with me you know how much I hate the house itself. I can spend a half-hour ranting about all the things wrong with it, but deep down I acknowledge that I could be in a situation without a living arrangement.

Owning a house is important from a social perspective, though people of my generation are buying less and opting to rent more, it also means that it is ours with little opportunity to lose it beyond a disaster. There is a security that comes from our current living arrangement.

As the days grow shorter and the nights much colder, I recognize how fortunate we are to have a warm house to sleep in, especially for Jai. Living insecurity is a real concern even in America for children, so knowing that he has a safe, warm, and secure place for Jai to sleep at night takes a load of worry off of my mind.

Transportation

We live in a major metropolitan area that has its own transportation system, though massively flawed. When I first moved down ten years ago from New England, I depended on this form of transportation because I didn’t have a vehicle. While it was imperfect, I remember being grateful to have it available to get to my various jobs around the city.

I grew up in an area that didn’t even have regional transportation and what little transportation it did have it was reserved for people with disabilities and not for the general public. Going from nothing to something was opening up the world for me and I loved it. It might take me two hours to get somewhere, but I could get there.

Several years after the move down I got my car back (I previously had no means to park it which is why it stayed behind) and going from public transportation to having a vehicle was even more freeing. I made sure to give rides to people who needed them to return the favors I accumulated over the years without a car. While I could now cut trip times down by half, I never forgot my time on public transportation.

Anytime I can go somewhere and use public transportation, I take the chance even with Jai. I want him to learn and appreciate the transportation system we have in place. I am a huge defender of our transportation system, though I will heavily qualify it as problematic and needing fixing, I do want to see the changes.

That said, I am grateful I have a vehicle and when I go an extended period of time without my car, even with a rental, I recognize how important it is in my life.

Food

During the same period ten years ago when I didn’t have my car I also went through an extremely lean period regarding my ability to eat. I was struggling to make ends meet and chose to pay for my bills and rent over buying food for myself. I started dating Ash around this time, but I didn’t admit to him how little I could afford to eat. Rather, I would offer to make him dinner which was cheaper, provided he pay for the ingredients.

I lost a lot of weight during that time between not being able to eat and walking everywhere with public transportation. I was grateful for that silver lining (I had plenty of weight to lose at that point).

While I figured I would eventually see the end of this lean eating period, I knew I had it better than others. I was able to eat at least one quality meal a day, but I know there are plenty of others who can go days without food or quality food options.

I honestly found this period of my life to be the most enlightening, food uncertainty did help shape my personal perspective going forward: I would always donate and help out in any way I could for others who had no way of knowing when their period of lean eating would come to an end.

When Jai gets older, I want to bring him to opportunities to help others who are dealing with food uncertainty. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, a major charity in our city opens up its facilities for people to donate their time and energy to make meals for the poor. I have always wanted to donate my time there, but haven’t had the ability. I think when he’s 7 he’ll be ready to help and appreciate what he is doing for others.

What are some of the more tangible things you are grateful for in your life? What brings about an appreciation for these things? Comment with your thoughts below.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Make a “Day of Service” a Year-Round Event

In the United States, today is a day of service meant to honor the life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Many people have the day off, so it’s easy to coordinate events for people to volunteer and do good within their community. There are plenty of opportunities to go out and do something specifically for the day. These tend to be small time commitments meant to make the most of the volunteers’ work.

Yet, it is only one day out of the year set aside for helping others. Consider expanding commitments to be a year-round thing if capable, double/triple/quadruple the good throughout the year. It doesn’t need to be every week or every month; if committing once every other month is possible, it still goes a long way to help others.

Making the commitment to do something more has its place, specifically for your health. I’ve already mentioned that there’s a lot of positive health benefits for a person who is generous with their time for others. And being generous to themselves. It also sets a great example for your children to do more within their community when they get older.

Below are some ideas for honoring Dr. King’s legacy throughout the year.

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The Science of Generosity

During the holiday season in the Western world, there is a mindset that people are to be generous with their time and money towards those who are less fortunate. A Christmas Carol is treated as a cautionary tale of what can happen if people pinch their pennies too much.

And to an extent, that is the case: in 2016, there was an upward trend in charitable gift giving with an estimation of $390 billion going to charitable causes, though this statistic isn’t isolated to a specific time of year. There are a number of reasons why people donate to charities at the end of the year: because it feels good, tax write-off, a cause of personal importance, appeal from a charity, etc. Though this survey points out that none of these reasons were actually motivating factors and asks the readers why that might be the case.

We can only speculate on what truly motivates people to give at the end of the year with this information, but my hope is because there is a feeling of generosity that permeates people during the holiday season. And there’s plenty of reasons why this might be the case.

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