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May 02, 2008

Sincere Giving and Longevity

What did the Zen Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor?
Make me one with everything!
:-) (courtesy of Stephen Post, PhD at his talk on May 2nd in Vancouver)

Do you know what the most popular course at Harvard University is? According to Stephen Post, Ph.D, it's the course on Happiness. That could be because 25% of students self-report depression and 16% have actually been diagnosed as clinically depressed. That percentage, according to Post, is fairly representative of undergrads in general throughout North America.

It used to be that happiness was considered a frivolous pursuit. But that might also be because in 1936 people were a lot happier than they are now even though they had less, materialistically.

Now, insurance claims and short term and long term disability related to depression is sky rocketing. Depression in the workplace/society has become a focus of insurance companies because of depression's impact on dollars at a corporate level. (It's not so much about individual suffering but about corporate suffering. And, that's why, it has become a focus. Whatever it takes I suppose).

Enter Professor Post. His book is titled, Why Good Things Happen to Good People. How to live a longer, healthier, happier life by the simple act of giving.With contributions from the Templeton Foundation, Dr. Post has created the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love.

Now, as he pointed out, it's not that bad things don't happen to good people but science is discovering that it's good to be good to other people and to oneself. It's good for the heart. It's good for longevity. It's good for your mental state of well being. In fact, those people who take the focus off themselves, who feel gratitude, who can take pleasure in simple things - nature, another, regardless of their life circumstances, are genuinely more happy to a significant degree than those who don't, can't.

It has been scientifically proven that sincere giving (of self, tithing, being compassionate)with "sincere" being the operative word actually leads to physiological changes that can prolong your life. One study found that older adults (over the age of 65)who participated in informal giving, merely by offering acts of kindness and assistance to those who may need more assistance than they themselves need, had a 44% reduction in mortality.

Another study found that minor amounts of volunteering each week (as little as 2 hours per week) in which acts of compassion, simple acts of loving kindness were exchanged from one person to another resulted in a feeling of effervesence and peace.

Receiving is also part of giving. You must learn how to receive well, he says because in doing so you are reinforcing a positive feeling towards the giver thereby reinforcing the benefits of giving and promoting that way of being out into the universe.

So, the next time someone wants to give you something, receive it with gratitude and grace because it's not about you. It's about them. And, if you've ever given something to someone who doesn't receive well, you know how your heart feels. The energy is depleted in some way.

I noticed reference to Dr. Post's talk just this morning. I had no plans and it had been a day of silence, frustratingly so. In spite of everything I have to offer an employer, I am in a place where I have not been able to find a new place of employment. Yes, I am being discriminating, it has to be right for me as well, and so far it's not happening:Yet!

In fact, it has gotten to a point where I'm looking around my apartment for signs that there is a problem with the Feng Shui. I know, because I have experienced difficult circumstances before - financially, emotionally, mentally - and what I learned from those is that this too shall pass. In fact, having experienced those is what has allowed me to handle this bout of not working quite well I believe.

So, I'm at the talk and at the end, there are some gifts. Dr. Post is standing up there with about 5 boxes to be given away. He gives away the first to someone whose birthday is in May. May 1. And, then he says, let's go with February. I'm going to give this to someone whose birthday is in February. Let's go with February 15th he says. Now, that's MY birthday. I jump up,he gives me the box and I thank him for my present and the talk ends.

I am feeling so happy, so lucky, so ecstatic about receiving this gift. The box is wrapped in such a way that I can't open it there so I really don't know what's inside of it.

And, when I get home, I open the box and the gift is wrapped in orange tissue paper and tied with jute. I rip open the paper, I have a huge smile, I'm genuinely excited and grateful. Inside, there's not just one book but two books AND a chocolate bar. At that point in time, I couldn't have been more happy. I'm not sure that winning the lottery would have made me more happy than in that moment last night (well, maybe a little).

And, the reason I was happy wasn't because of the books - the two books - one written by Dr. Post and the other entitled, The Power of Giving. I was happy because I felt that receiving that gift, last night, was a much bigger acknowledgement of the universe showing me that my instincts are on target. I believed I was going to receive one of those gifts. I knew it, in my heart, the moment I saw the gifts at the beginning of the evening. I don't know how I knew it. I believed it.

And, I believe receiving it confirmed for me that my instincts are working well. I believe that everything will be fine. I believe that going inside and believing the knowingness that is in your heart, even when externally things are seemingly falling apart, will allow that feeling to take you to a place you need to be. And, it has its own agenda. It's timeline is not connected to the timelines of social convention. It does not know about "the rent".

And, I feel that the tests I have had in life in my past have all been exercises in believing, in cultivating faith and being aware that what is taking place on an invisible level, is an important step in a spiritual journey where you must believe you are always in the "right" place for you regardless of what is happening on the physical plane.

Some might call it magical thinking. Many more people call it "faith".

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