The positive psychologists will tell you this, and it’s really true: performing a good deed, doing a loving action, makes you feel great. Here’s an example.
Once my sister and I grew up, my parents started a new Christmas tradition. We adults “draw for stockings,” i.e., we put slips of paper into a hat and each draw out a different name, and we only buy presents for that one person. And we’re supposed to buy lots of stocking presents—small, relatively inexpensive gifts—nothing too big. CDs and books, not sweaters and iPods.
This simplifies Christmas shopping, because we each just have one person to focus on.
It’s a great tradition, because it makes us really pay attention to each other—my father is interested in learning more about ancient Rome, my mother has switched to the small Filofax from the big Filofax.
In any event, this year I drew my mother, and the Big Man drew me, and my sister drew my father.
My sister has had a crazy, CRAZY year. She writes for TV in Los Angeles. In the space of one day, she got engaged, got diagnosed with diabetes, and had an offer on a house accepted. With her writing partner, on the side of her TV job, she wrote a young-adult novel; now they’re working on a pilot script. She and her fiancé moved two weeks ago, and they’re getting married in May.
She’s under a huge amount of pressure at work right now. I really wished that I could do something to help. And then I thought of something I could do.
I got her on the phone. “Hey, since I can’t come to help you move, guess what I’m going to do to help you out?”
“I’m going to do your Christmas shopping.”
She was so relieved that she didn’t even say, “Oh, no, you shouldn’t.” “Thanks, Gretch! That would be so great.”
And you know, I’ve gotten more happiness out of that good deed than I could get from any Christmas present that I’ll receive.
Now, it helped that my father suggested several things he wanted, and the Big Man—in a miraculous development—did most of the actual shopping for the presents. So it turned out that my offer wasn’t a big sacrifice on my part.
But I do know that the shopping would have weighed on my sister’s mind. And sometimes when you’re under a lot of stress, it’s the little tasks that seem the hardest.
Generally, I’m ashamed to say, I’m so self-absorbed that I don’t even think about what good deeds I might do for the people around me. I’m trying to be better at seeing possibilities—even little things. I can email some digital photos of the girls to my in-laws, who are away on a vacation (I just learned how to do this). I can really make an effort to set up my great friend who’s single. I can help a person carry her stroller up the subway stairs.
We should do good just because it’s the right thing to do—but it helps to remember how satisfying it is. Do good, feel good.
One of my resolutions is to “explore on the internet,” and I’ve become intrigued by the wild, lovely variety of design sites. Here’s one of my new favorites: K Style.