“You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need.” ~ Vernon Howard
To say that I acquired “a lot” of stuff over the years is an understatement. In this case, my stuff had little practical utility, yet, felt ‘right’ to have. Things that looked good sitting in their rightful place in my closet; yet, had zero sentimental value. Beyond my life as a clinician, I’m also a musician; so, in order to validate my “artistic license”, having seven or eight guitars did more for my sense of musicianhood than two or three ever could. It’s true: More had become my measuring stick for success — an idea that became increasingly more-onic with each passing day.
Then, one fateful late December day several years ago, I had a life changing revelation. As I embarked upon my year-end inventory of over-hyped, under-valued stuff, I took a closer look at the things that I truly needed in order for me to be happy. As in previous years, I needed another guitar. After all, adding yet another piece to my ever growing guitar-senal was what I truly desired…and required.
Or, was it?
No. It definitely was not.
For way too many years, amassing ‘things’ had in some way helped to define my sense of self. Yet, in what seemed like an instant, my need for a lot transformed into a compulsion for possessing very little…and, eventually, into an obsession with possessing only what I absolutely needed. This revelation was actually part of a much larger ideological iceberg that magically began to melt into a sea of self-less self-fulfillment. (Try saying that ten times, fast…)
From that pivotal moment onward, I began to take a very different kind of inventory than I had ever taken in the past. I sat down and decided what to sell, what to give to friends and family, and what to donate to charity. As I went through years of mindless acquisition, I wasn’t just shocked by the disparity between wanting versus needing, but by the fact that I had so badly confused (and abused) the meaning of those words for as long as I did. The process of giving felt amazing because I knew that others would use, share, and appreciate what I no longer (or perhaps never) did. In essence, each time I gave something, I got something in return. Something meaningful. Something inspirational. Something intangible…yet, that I could feel with all my heart.
And so can you.
As ‘helpers’, opportunities to give and get exist in every interaction that we have with friends and loved ones. We give by sharing knowledge and experience. We give by offering new ways of thinking, feeling, and doing. We give by being compassionate and understanding. We give by encouraging, inspiring, and validating the good in others. We give by helping others to become the best version of themselves. And when we do, we give what might be the greatest gift of all: The ability for others to stop seeking a force of change and, instead, start believing that they are the force of change.
So, then, what exactly do we ‘get’ from our selfless acts of giving? When we give others a platform to capitalize on their existing strengths, we get to watch them reframe challenge as an opportunity for amazing outcomes. When we give others the confidence to strive toward the next milestone on their path, we get to ride that exhilarating wave of success with them. And when we give those we love a safe haven in which they can flourish, we get to share a very special space in which motivation drives, creativity thrives, and the benefits of giving and getting are mutually assured.
No, my desire to give away unused items wasn’t just about ‘lightening the load’ for the sake of simplicity. My desire to give was driven by the idea that shining a light on someone’s world can cast a rainbow on our own. Be it a pearl of knowledge, a sage piece of advice, or a rarely used and easily excused item from our closet, the giving-getting dynamic makes one thing explicitly clear: What we give to can empower others. But what we get in return can transform us.
It can, and will, change the way you see ‘things’.
About the Author: Joshua GARRIN is one of Your Monthly Mentors. He holds a Ph.D. in health psychology, an M.S. in cognitive psychology, and a B.S. in general psychology and journalism. He currently resides in the Hudson Valley region of New York. Following the completion of his doctorate in 2014, Joshua was the recipient of Walden University’s Harold L. Hodgkinson Award for Outstanding Dissertation Research for his inquiry on health beliefs, outcome expectancies, and stress appraisal in college seniors. Read More…