You are an extra in someone else’s movie
Sure, you are the main character in yours but for the majority of the world, you don’t even have a name or a plot line. Maybe you are ‘guy/girl who walks across the screen’, but that’s about it.
It’s important to keep that in mind because it can be so easy to get caught up in our own narrative and think that my story or experience is the only one that matters, and everyone else is playing a supporting role for my benefit. Which is a dangerous place to operate from because getting so wrapped up in ‘me’ and ‘my world’ pushes everyone else and their needs the periphery.
“Why should that matter?” I hear you ask…well, it’s simple. If everyone in the world was all about ‘want’ and ‘take’, we would consume everyone and everything in our paths. But people have value, and how we treat those around us creates the culture for the world we live in. Also, selfishness is not good for us. That goes for individuals, teams, companies, countries and the world.
What is good for us is generosity. Giving to other people, be that time, energy, love, money – whatever you have to offer, will benefit them but also you. Giving is good for you.
So, you are an extra in someone else’s movie. You are not the centre of the universe. It might sound depressing but the good news is that you can be the best extra in someone else’s movie today. Just by being kind, friendly and smiling at someone else, you can create an amazing scene which will impact how the rest of their story plays out.
It is perhaps the most challenging part of being an adult – realising that most good things in life come after action. Be that motivation, inspiration, momentum, direction, creative juices, freshly baked cookies…you name it.
On the flipside, there are very few desirable things that come from inaction.
It’s the same for the feeling of fulfilment and joy that come after a generous act. We know that the brain and the body respond in positive ways when we are generous to others. We like the feeling of our brain and body responding like that. But we don’t always do the thing that brings about that feeling.
It first requires action. It needs proactive behaviour that chooses to be generous first, then experience the good things follow.
To find the good things in life, you must act first. To find that good feeling and the positive outcomes of generosity, you first must be generous. The beauty is that it can start with your thoughts. You can even think generously about someone and start to receive some of the benefits. But don’t leave it there. It’s not a real act until you act it out.
Giving is better than receiving. It’s a cliché for a reason – it is so widely used because it is true. Which is amazing because I love receiving. How good is it to get a thoughtful gift? Receiving something new creates an amazing physiological response in our body, excitement, joy and happiness. It changes our mood.
Giving away a thoughtful gift also has an amazing physiological response in our body. It creates joy and a sense of fulfilment at the sight of someone we care about getting excited, feeling joy and being happy. The difference is that the feeling you get when you give something thoughtful to someone else, lasts longer than their feelings of excitement, joy and happiness at receiving the gift.
It’s feels counterintuitive but a new toy loses its shine super quick (be that an actual toy or a new iPhone), but the feeling of joy the giver has, lasts a lot longer. There is a great sense of fulfilment that comes when you realise that you are the type of person who is generous.
“I act generously” – is a great statement to say about yourself.
It’s sounds much better than “I love getting gifts from people”.
Giving is better than receiving.
“Did you know that you have impacted 44,000 people since you first started giving nearly 20 years ago?”
You could see the tears well up in their eyes as the enormity of their true impact started to sink in. They were a humble couple, faithfully giving what they could to the work of Opportunity International Australia. Some years they would give large amounts, other years smaller amounts, but they were always thinking about being generous with what they had been given. You would walk by them in the street and have no idea that these people had changed the lives of so many.
Through their giving, they had provided small loans to thousands of families across Asia so that they could start a business, create an income, put food on the table, send their kids to school and pay the loan back. Through the process of repayment and recycling their impact grew and grew – like an investment in the improvement of our world, it will continue.
Today, my job was to share with them the true depth of the difference they have made and to say “Thank you”. I love my job.
Famous basketball coach, John Wooden, said when we give away three of the things we want most, ‘happiness, freedom, and peace of mind’, that’s when we actually receive them. Which is the great, mystical law of generosity – it is by giving generously to others that we receive an abundance. Often we get more than we give.
So, instead of being fearful of running out and experiencing a lack, which stifles generosity, we can be assured that there is enough to go around, with leftovers. Enough happiness. Enough freedom. Enough peace of mind. Enough money. Enough food.
At this point, you might (rightfully so) have some questions. If there is enough of these things, plus leftovers, why do we currently experience a lack of some, maybe all, of them in the world today?
This lack exists because people hold on too tightly to what they have. Because generosity is missing, which creates people who are unhappy, trapped and anxious. Wealthy, but anxious.
So be generous. Give away happiness, freedom, and peace of mind to others. It will serve them and you.
How do you give happiness, freedom, and peace of mind away? That’s the question that only you can answer. (But it probably starts with giving some money).
There are times when my spirit feels crushed. There are times when I don’t seem to have the ability to cognitively think my way out of a downward emotional spiral. The feeling of betrayal and anger, bordering on hatred, can burn a deep hole in your being. In those moments I feel disorientated and lost, desperately searching for a sure footing and a strong sense of my identity. Can you still act generously out of anger? What if I always feel this way? What if this is my new normal?
The Dark Moments are terrifying. To not see a way out. To know that things will get better but to not feel that. To know what I ‘need’ to do, but not do it. These are the time when generosity is most important.
Generosity is not all light and fluffy. It is also the hard work that goes on behind the scenes, when you are feeling the emotional weight, when you are not sure if you can carry on, when the voices of detractors are loud and echoing around your head. It’s the work of choosing to act generously, even if it is only to yourself and say, ‘it’s okay to feel this way’, and then to seek help.
“Go on, sing”.
That was the encouragement from the three friendly faces that stared back at me as I sat there, tentatively playing some chords on my guitar. It had been a while since I had sung in front of people who were not my small children, who would normally end up sitting on my lap to ‘help’ me play, demanding Encanto, then the Wiggles and then falling asleep on me. I was pretty sure that wouldn’t happen in this setting, so I decided to obey.
I wouldn’t call it an extraordinary gift, but it was a vulnerable part of myself that I risked sharing with them that night and they ‘seemed’ to appreciate it – nobody walked out, and they said nice things afterwards. (I have trouble taking and believing complements – that’s a whole other thing).
It got me thinking about what we share with the people around us. Often, the things that seem the scariest to share with others are the very things that they appreciate. Having someone give something of themselves with you feels good. Be that a musical talent, some writing they are working on, or a creative thought they are mulling over. It says that they trust you, care about you and that you are valuable to them. And most times it has a positive impact on how you feel and your time together.
Even if I made that night a tiny bit better with what I shared, it was worth the risk.
It is commonly thought that an emergency situation brings out the best and the worst in people.
The worst seems to be obvious, when people take advantage or abuse someone who has lost everything. Examples of this include people looting homes after a fire or a flood has caused damage and evacuations. Or those who seek government assistance available to people who suffered loss, even though they didn’t suffer loss. They try to cheat the system, taking resources away from people who actually need it. Taking advantage of others fits into ‘the worst of people’.
So, on the other hand, the ‘best’ is when we see people coming together, being generous, supporting each other, taking care of those who have lost something or someone. Examples of this include when a community brings spare clothes, bedding and other necessities to help those who have lost everything, giving space in their homes, giving money to help, helping rebuild. We have seen this time and time again in Australia when fires or floods have torn people and places apart. It is one of the most inspirational things to see. It also happens far more than the ‘worst’ examples. Helping others fits into ‘the best of people’.
So, why wait for an emergency to take place to be the ‘best’. We can do this every day through our actions and words to those around us. We all know what the best is, let’s remember to do it.
“You cannot be what you cannot see.” I don’t totally agree. Sure, it’s easier to become something that you can see or have experienced before, but I think you can create something that you haven’t seen, you can create a career path, or a passion project, or a way of thinking. Some people are wired that way. They are not limited by what is and can conceive of what previously has not been possible.
But, when it comes to love and generosity we cannot express what we have not received. If you have never been fully loved, or if you have never been on the receiving end of an act of generosity, you will not be able to love from a healthy place, or to be generous. Not fully anyway. You might be able to manufacture something that looks like it but it will be a poor imitation and will not last the test of time.
Maybe that is why some people in your life don’t seem to be able to express love or gratitude in a way that you think they should. Your love and generosity towards them could be the thing they need so they can learn it and then begin to act it out.
It works for those suffering from depression. Dr. Catherine Chambliss has been studying it for years, and has created a word for it – Freudenfreude.
You might already know of its evil cousin, schadenfreude, which is the pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune. It’s that sense of glee you feel when someone you know of fails, or falls over or who’s life implodes.
Freudenfreude is the opposite – it’s the joy you feel when someone you know shares their success with you. It’s shared joy. Shoy. If you are able create shoy in your life it will decrease depressive symptoms and increase your mood.
But how do you do that?
Dr. Chambliss maps it out like this:
- Notice – Go out of your way to notice when someone brings you a story of success
- Respond positively to that story
- Ask for all the details, let them tell you all about it
Do those three things and you will set yourself up for some shoy.
Plus, when you are sharing your story of success (bragging), package it with layers of gratitude which removes the sense of competition, changing your headspace but also making it easier for those listening to find shoy in your success.
There is something deeply generous about freudenfreude. And like generosity, it benefits everyone, not just the one who receives it.