In my last letter, I spoke about giving and why it’s important to maintain relationships that will make you happy.
Now that I’ve tried to demonstrate the theory of giving, I want to talk about what it means in practice.
The giving we do in our lives covers a hugely broad range of possible recipients. From immediate family to complete strangers in faraway places, our giving reaches so many. So, which kind of giving is the most important element of living a good life?
The answer is — as many kinds of giving as you can possibly fit into your life. They are all important in different ways.
Giving to our closest family and friends is important because it provides context and depth to what it means to be a friend or family member. To be someone’s friend is not just about sharing blood or being classmates with someone you like.
A true family, just like a true friendship, is about unconditional love. Giving help whenever help is needed is what strengthens these relationships and gives them depth and meaning.
Giving this help is akin to watering a garden — just a garden of friendship and love. A relationship must spread its roots and be nurtured. So, giving is really from the soul and animates a loving relationship between two friends or family members.
This is extremely valuable in its own right, but it also has a magical way of coming back to you when you need it the most.
Some people assume that the very concept of giving is about occasional grand gestures delivered for exceptional reasons. However, I think that the opposite is true. Giving should be part of everyday life and a constant feature of your existence.
Giving is about the small gestures of help that you give to your family members or colleagues during the day. Things like helping your spouse around the house or taking the time to get a coffee with someone.
Giving is being warm and friendly to everyone and treating people always well. It should come naturally to you and be instinctual rather than impulsive. It should be your default and not something that needs special effort. Giving should not feel like a sacrifice but a pleasure.
This does, however, require some degree of discipline as it’s all too easy to abandon this when we feel tired, stressed, angry or low.
I say all this because it forms the very core of the person I know that you will grow to become in life. By being a giver in thought and deed, you will become a better person. And as a better person, you will positively impact all those that you encounter.
In some ways, it all comes down to the fundamental question of our own perception of what life means. At one end of the spectrum is the idea that we live solely to indulge and satisfy ourselves. At the other end is the idea that we live to form relationships with other people. To love and be loved. To help and be helped. And to enrich the lives of others while having our own lives enriched too.
I want you to live as closely as you can to the latter because self-indulgence is ultimately vacuous, while a life of service to others is a treasure chest that you will never empty.
On the topic of giving, I always want to talk about charity. This form of giving is often, though not always, defined by giving to those we’ve never met. As I’ve already mentioned, the whole idea of good fortune in life is a highly relative concept. There will always be others both better and worse off than you. What matters for you is to understand your privilege and to act accordingly.
To do so will not only make you feel much better about yourself and your life, but it also empowers you to give to those around you. When we give to those in our everyday life, we see the impact. With charity, we may never know the effect of our giving.
As such, it’s only by taking the path towards charity giving that we can liberate ourselves from the shackles of self-indulgence and self-centeredness. While we can argue that giving to those we love is fundamentally an act of self-interest (although I stress there is nothing inherently wrong with this), the same cannot be said for genuine acts of charity.
We don’t give to charities to help ourselves in the narrow sense of the word, but we do so to help others and ultimately ourselves.
Charity and, more broadly, the sense of social responsibility it engenders is the force that continuously makes our world a better place for humanity. There can be little doubt that human existence in this world has changed a great deal over the last few thousand years. Some of this has been driven by science and technology fundamentally altering the way we live. However, the social dimension of our civilisation has been equally transformed by the human desire to improve our collective existence.
Despite all the horrors, wars and suffering humans have been through, the world has become a better place with every passing generation. This has made the world you have entered a more wonderful place than it was. And this has all come from the very human decision to give.