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A Reflection on Giving
What is meaningful happiness? It is different for each of us, but the common denominator reported across cultures, races, and religions is the feeling of being something for others – feeling connected to someone or something other than ourselves and being able to contribute to those connections.
On 11 May 2016, I had the pleasure of attending the State Volunteering Congress at the Adelaide Convention Centre with Lighthouse Disability volunteer, Dona. The keynote address ‘Giving is Receiving’ was given by Dr Thomas Nielson and discussed research showing that giving, and service to others, can dramatically increase wellbeing and meaningful happiness.
Experiencing pleasure is important, but it comes and it goes. Pleasure is a not a reliable source for happiness, or for a meaningful life. Meaningful happiness is more resilient and durable, less likely to come and go.
A personal example might be if I take my children out for ice cream, the delicious icy sweet might give me pleasurable happiness for a day, but it is the contribution to my relationship with my children, and giving them a treat that they love that gives me lasting, meaningful happiness. In my working life, the pay I receive each fortnight is a pleasurable reward that enables me to buy the things I need, but money comes and goes and it is the meaning I take from contributing to the support of vulnerable people in our community that makes me most happy.
Before we can give to others though, we need to learn how to give to ourselves – we need to meet our own needs to fill our cups to overflowing. If I want to take my children out for a treat, but I am too tired or stressed, I will be unable to give them the time and energy that they need from me.
Are you getting enough sleep and exercise? Do you have enough opportunities for creativity, time out for doing the things you love, and activities that stimulate your brain? Are you eating well, and living in a positive environment? See Dr Nielson’s ‘Action Plan for Self-Care’ to check in with how you are going caring for yourself. You can find it here: http://www.thomaswnielsen.net/downloadablecontentlinks/self-care-aims/ .
When we have filled our own cups we are ready to give to others. There are infinite numbers of ways that people can give to each other, their communities, and our environment. Informal giving occurs often - when you make someone a cup of tea, put effort into recycling correctly, drive a friend to an appointment, or offer a listening ear or a hug when needed. Formal giving often occurs through volunteering, in millions of organisations across the globe.
Lighthouse Disability volunteers give to people living with disabilities through forming relationships and connection, companionship, assistance to attend outings and events, creating a well-maintained house and garden, and helping behind the scenes in the office. Lighthouse staff will also often volunteer their time at important events, showing their dedication to the wellbeing of the people we support.
Dr Nielson’s address had me thinking about the ways in which I give to others, challenged me to think of new contributions I could make, and consider how well I am looking after myself to be able to continue to do that. It also helped me to realise that giving should become a natural part of everyone’s daily life to ensure wellbeing and meaningful happiness. I encourage you to reflect on your own experiences of giving and happiness, and challenge you to consider how you might include more self-care and giving to others into your life.
If you would like more information about volunteering with Lighthouse Disability, please phone 8256 9800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.