The last entry in our series on the five ways of Wellbeing is perhaps the most important: Giving.
Turning our attention outwards, giving our time and energy to those around us, shifts the focus away from our narrow conception of self and onto the social world that we inhabit. Within that world of human connection, we can find a sense of purpose, meaning, and satisfaction.
Offering our help to friends, relatives, and strangers when we are able serves to foster a sense of gratitude for the people around us. Instead of thinking, “how can these people benefit me?” we ask ourselves the opposite, devoting energy to serving the needs of others. Our time and resources are both precious, and it is often not easy to choose to give them away freely. However, the resulting peace of mind and increased connection that comes from it is often far more valuable in the long term.
Almost all of the world’s religions stress the value in helping others, of using our good fortune to benefit those around us. Much secular philosophy makes the same point, that those who are happiest are often those who turn their attention outwards. Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius writes in his Meditations that “what brings no benefit to the hive brings none to the bee”.
Acting in such a manner, with no hope of praise or reward, is perhaps difficult at first, but the true compensation is the peace of mind that comes from dissolving the ego. There is less time to feel sad, anxious or despairing in ourselves when we are focussed primarily on the welfare of others. Luckily life provides constant opportunities for us to be of service.
While volunteering or joining a local community group may seem like the most obvious ways to give back, we don’t necessarily have go out of our way like this to adopt a giving mentality. Rather, giving is a state of mind; attending to each social interaction with as much care and attention for the other as possible. Turning our mind outwards in this way means that each action we undertake is imbued with a feeling of love in its truest sense, recognising the divinity in each individual: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.”
Giving means more than just time and resources, it means giving of our spiritual and mental energy. A willingness to forgive, to empathise, to let go of grudges and attempt to understand the actions of another – even if we are hurt by them – means we let go of negative mental attitudes that can poison our own happiness and mental wellbeing. The benefit of the doubt is something we ‘give’, much like we ‘give’ someone a second chance. This attitude of openness, not allowing ourselves to be caught by toxic feelings, is also about letting go of our wounded sense of self, turning our focus away from the ego and towards the world.