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Feel the Pinch of Generosity and You’ll Feel Better

By helping those in the world and in your own household, you also help yourself

A version of this post first appeared on DurableHuman.com

If you were lucky enough to be spared by Harvey or Irma, you might feel powerless in the face of all the suffering and destruction. But flip that attitude into action by using your human-only superpower of generosity.

Consider the Houston Independent School district. Harvey’s rain was still pounding when district officials decided every one of their 215,000 students could eat breakfast and lunch for free the entire school year. They knew returning to normalcy would take time and, if students were to continue to grow and learn, they needed regular nutritious meals.

In Texas, the display of durability by the Cajun Navy and other just-plain-folks who so freely gave of their time and skills was stunning. That’s why, in the days before Irma, Florida’s governor made an explicit pitch for volunteers. Within 36 hours, 8,000 residents had signed up with VolunteerFlorida.

That’s the thing about generosity. It takes effort.

Philosopher C.S. Lewis wrote:

If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small.

Considering our overall state of busy-ness, the way we choose to spend our time will determine if we are going to feel the pinch. We need to be actively mindful of those whose lives have been upended.

You’ll have to think ahead to carve out the minutes you’ll need to grab cans from the cupboard and head to a truck being filled for ravaged regions. 

When you’re about to check Facebook (again), click instead on Charity Navigator.

There, organizations directly helping are ranked and sorted by disaster. There are a world of individuals in need on GoFundMe-type crowd-funding sites.

In disaster’s aftermath, to feel the pinch around children may mean keeping your thirst for news at bay. Images and sounds on TV and radio are scary to little ones, so when you’re around them, the American Academy of Pediatrics says viewing and listening should be limited.

For older kids, the pinch is different. When you know they’ve been keeping an eye on the situation, steal some moments away from media so you can sit together and talk. You’ll reassure them that love and stability still exist in the world if you put down your phone, look them in the eyes, and really listen.

In The Durable Human Manifesto, I define a hug as a combination muscle relaxant, tranquilizer, and love potion. Freely dispense hugs in your household. During a hug, take a deep breath and linger so the feel-good hormone oxytocin can kick in.

So that’s the irony. Reaching out to others makes you feel better.

In fact, says Richard Davidson, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds:

The most effective strategy for changing specific circuits in the brain associated with well-being is generosity.

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