A Letter To My Daughter — on giving and why it’s important for a good life
As you grow older, you’ll find that humans suffer from strange contradictions within their character. We all do.
One of the most difficult contradictions to live with is that between the powerful urge to receive and the equally powerful one to give.
Naturally, we experience the urge to receive first — almost before anything else. From the moment we’re born, we need care and attention. We receive food, nurturing, clothes and comfort throughout this initial steg of life.
It’s perhaps unsurprising then that we develop a selfish view of the world. One where we expect to receive everything we need when we need it. We are oblivious to the trials of working to provide for us, and simply expect to receive. This is why small children cry when they are denied something they want.
I think that it’s not difficult to feel that life is all about receiving when that is all you have ever known.
But we grow older, and as we do the urge to give starts to emerge. Children are sometimes possessive of their toys while other times happy to share with new playmates.
As they grow even older and find out about friendship, then the impulse to give grows alongside them. This becomes a way to strengthen bonds of youthful friendship and feels natural.
Romance takes this to an even higher level as we develop the impulse to give and to please when we fall in love. Marriage itself is defined by the responsibilities of giving, to each other and to your family.
And children, of course, are the ultimate instigators of our need to give as our unconditional love for them outweighs our selfishness. And as we age even more, we find ourselves caring for those who once cared for us until we are suddenly in the same position with our own children.
In this way, the arc of giving and receiving serves us for all of our lives. Giving and getting ends up going full circle, with one giving way to the other until we end up once again in a position where we must receive more than we give.
This description is of a life in which the currents of giving and receiving constantly bump into each other but also flow around one another. In reality, every person’s life comprises much giving and receiving as both are necessary to live.
However, none of this changes the fact that some people get more, and some people give more. It should also not distract us from the importance of how we act in terms of giving and receiving.
I want to encourage you to think deeply about the importance of giving. And of how to give in the right way — make this the guiding principle of your life. Giving is the only way you can truly make an impression on others and on the world itself.
Think about it. Giving changes the lives of the recipient in ways that receiving does not. Just as important is the fact that giving is always within our power and under our control. We can choose when we give, while we can rarely choose when we receive. This is almost entirely out of our control.
These two great benefits of giving — the way it affects others and our control over it — are integral to living a good life.
The act of giving draws us closer to the recipients. And given that intimacy and closeness with others is critical to our emotional wellbeing, this alone is proof of the worthiness of giving. Furthermore, when we give, we often initiate a virtuous cycle of events.
Firstly, by giving we satisfy the desires or needs of someone else, which is good in it own right. Secondly, giving makes the recipient happy and releases a wave of positivity. This happiness in the other person engenders a response full of fondness for us, which is often then demonstrated through gratitude and warmth.
This warmth and gratitude cement our feelings of affection for the recipient too. And so, through giving, we feel better about ourselves and about other people.
The act of giving is an expression of the love we feel towards our chosen recipient. Since, as we’ve discussed, love is essential to happiness, through giving we encourage it into our lives. Nothing can match an act of love in its impact on other people. And so the act of giving triggers these reciprocal feelings.
Giving also provides a bonding mechanism between people, it acts as a hook that connects two train wagons. It becomes a natural and very powerful way for two people to become bound with each other in a positive way.
And for ourselves, giving makes us feel good. By doing something we chose to do helps us value ourselves more too. When you start to give regularly to others, you will discover how wonderful it makes you feel about them and yourself.
So much of our self-worth depends on the sense that we are needed by someone else. And that can only come about when we learn to give. And the more we give, the more needed we feel. And the more needed we feel, the better we feel about ourselves and our rightful place in this world.
Next time, I’ll tell you about an example of real-life giving that has added much to my life.