Step six – change a life


“Happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give.”
Ben Carson

The joy that one can receive from giving to others is often underestimated. In this modern day and age, most of us feel that we simply do not have the time or the resources to do so. However, it is entirely possible to change a person’s life in under a day, and you don’t have to join a charity for this to happen. If you have enough time to watch TV or browse the internet (and read this blog), then you have enough time to help a fellow human for a few hours. And it is so worth it.

Studies have shown that giving to others can help people manage their own stress and depression because of the perspective it gives them, as well as an overwhelming feeling of pride and human unity. This perspective is crucial because it reminds us that, though we have suffered heartbreak and are entitled to being upset about it, there are millions of people in the world who have much more important problems. It makes you count your blessings. If you make an effort to help somebody less fortunate than you, you will not only have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve made a difference in the world, but you will feel better about yourself and about other people.

Your assignment is to find a person, community or organisation in need, and commit a few hours to helping them. I chose to donate a vegetable patch to my domestic worker, Patience. Due to years of economic, social and political oppression under the apartheid regime, there are 7 588 013 people living in informal settlements in South Africa, struggling below the poverty line every day. It took very little money and only a few hours to create a fertile patch of vegetables, which could grow and help Patience to feed her family with nutritious and filling meals.

When I arrived at Langa (the informal settlement), I was disturbed by the level of poverty its inhabitants live in. There was rubbish everywhere, stray dogs foraging for food and thin children playing with a deflated soccer ball. A far cry from my sturdy house, pleasant garden and creature comforts. Despite their difficult circumstances, Patience and her neighbors touched me with their kindness and generosity – offering me their food and rationed water. I felt too guilty to oblige. In the few hours I spent there, I noticed how loving they were. Everybody shared everything and, though they had very little possessions, the children played and laughed and the adults smiled in each other’s company.

When we finished the vegetable patch, I was hugged by just about all of the women and children – the joy on their faces was priceless. One little act of kindness meant an immeasurable amount to them. I realized how insignificant my little problems were, and how I had an incredible amount to be thankful for. It felt ungrateful of me to not be happy, because I live a comfortable and relatively privileged existence, and I have far more to base my happiness on than just one relationship.

The perspective I found that day will serve me for the rest of my life. Not only do I feel so much more thankful for the life I have, but I also finally feel that I am a good person with good intentions, I have purpose and value, and my happiness can and will not be taken from me.

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