In giving, we receive

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One of the things that has stunned me having a little one is the amount of stuff you accumulate. I’ve worked out that in a mere 27 months, Little M. has gone through seven clothes sizes. Seven! That has been two drawers, full of clothes, seven times. It’s incredible. The sheer amount of waste is beyond belief. In the short time she has been a particular size, a matter of months, she hasn’t “ruined” any of them. Yes, a bit of pear discolouration or similar, but in general all these clothes are still in pretty good nick. Of course you pass things on to friends who are expecting, but that isn’t always needed. I wanted to find families that I could give these things to. When I had my first two drawer clear out of sizes 00000 and 0000, I phoned around numerous women refuges and also refugee settlement agencies. Yes, there were countless families in need, but as with everywhere, space was at a premium and there was no storage facilities at any of these places. Fortunately, I stumbled across the Perth based charity, Little Things for Tiny Tots . It is a volunteer-run charity which collects items and assembles boxes to assist in the first few months of a baby’s life. These boxes contain clothing, toys, nappies etc. and are then given to agencies such as hospitals, DCP and safe houses.

Now that Little M. clothes are too big for the charity, I still very much wanted to assist them in their work. There are so many families in WA doing in tough. Homelessness is growing, domestic violence is a prevalent as ever and many families are trying to survive below the poverty line. Bringing a baby into the world is demanding and there are many women out there who need that extra support. We all know that it takes a village and this charity, started by three friends, bridges the gap between those in need and those who want to offer support by sharing what they have. With Little M. continuing to attend her couple of days a week at daycare whilst I am on school holidays, I volunteered to help assemble some of the clothing packs. It was a small act of generosity, sorting donated clothes and creating little packages of tiny baby clothes. But I am aware that the families who will receive these, given and assembled by mothers, with love, will feel the village around them during those difficult early days with a newborn.

The wonderful thing about generosity though is that it’s benefits are twofold. Any act of generosity is obviously intended to help and support another person or people. However, there is a significant amount of evidence that proves that generosity has a positive effect on the wellbeing of the giver. Studies have proved that those who regularly engage in generous acts have lower stress levels and a stronger immune systems. In an age when managing stress is much needed, research into the benefits of doing good for others appears cutting edge. However, this is not a new concept at all. The importance of altruism and expressions of empathy is something ancient tribes and cultures have adopted for centuries.  The Circle of Courage, a Native American medicine wheel, used to holistically grow and maintain the health and wellbeing of young adolescents, includes generosity as one of its four main pillars. Larry Brendtro, Steve Van Bockern and Martin Brokenleg took this ancient wisdom and incorporated it into their highly successful program starting in the late 1980’s called  The Reclaiming Youth Network. In regards to Generosity,  they demonstrated how it comes in many forms. From simple gestures such as complimenting others and showing respect, through to freely giving time and expertise for the greater good. Regardless of the magnitude of the act, the positive effect on the individual giving, is clearly evident. Within the Buddhist tradition, the practice of Dana, is the habit of regular generosity in all aspects of your life, not just giving money or sharing material possessions. As His Holiness, the Dalai Lama says “Giving material goods is one form of generosity, but one can extend an attitude of generosity into all one’s behavior. Being kind, attentive, and honest in dealing with others, offering praise where it is due, giving comfort and advice where they are needed, and simply sharing one’s time with someone – all these are forms of generosity, and they do not require any particular level of material wealth.” Behavioural scientists too, explains that altruism is innate and the foundations of empathy are evident even in newborns. One baby crying will set off a whole room of babies. Even tiny toddlers will want to comfort another who expresses upset.

So how is it that being generous, putting the needs of others first, is actually a way of  improving our own mental health? Well, when we do those simple acts, it actually builds our own sense of self-worth. When we focus on another and respond with empathy, we are no longer concentrating on ourselves. Our default is to think negatively about our own abilities and our seeming lack of purpose and worth. The distraction of putting someone else before ourselves immediately ceases that unfavourable self talk. Generosity is a confidence builder and stamps out self loathing. It also requires optimism. To believe that you can make a difference to the life of another person requires an expectation of success. When you are an optimistic person, you develop strengths to cope with the inevitable pit falls of day-to-day living and therefore drastically reduce your stress levels. This ability to deal realistically with whatever life throws your way, knowing that there is always the likelihood of good results, reduces the surge and spread of cortisol, the stress hormone. This impacts positively on your immune system, so that you are both mentally healthier and physically stronger. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? And it is scientifically proven and promoted through mental health plans from your GP as well as across community programs such as Act, Belong, Commit.

As we look forward to the coming year, let’s see where we can put a little bit of generosity into our busy schedules. We must also never forget that we are the best models for our children and what they see us do, they do. It doesn’t have to be huge acts, but a daily commitment to do something for someone else, no matter how small, and we could not only be improving the experiences for many within our community but also helping build a strong mind and body for ourselves and our families.

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