Tag Archives: altruism

Get into the Spirit: Acts of Holiday Kindness

During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s easy to get caught up in the rush of overflowing schedules, maxing out credit cards to fulfill wish lists, and feeling overwhelmed by trying to keep up with it all.Gift

But, it’s important to step back and remember the true meaning of the season. The holidays are a time where we can honor traditions and create new memories, attend festive parties, spend more time with our loved ones, and rejoice in the energy of the pending new year with boundless opportunities ahead.

One of the most beautiful and heartwarming things about the holiday season is that it inspires many to be a little nicer, more giving, more social, and generally overall better to one other.

To gain some perspective on holiday giving, I reached out to a couple of kindness gurus for their take on the gooey heartwarming goodness of the season.

Kris Wittenberg, Founder & CEO of Be Good to People, a movement that’s changing the world one person, one kind act at a time notes, “People are full of good cheer, looking for ways to spread it to others and carry it on into the New Year ahead. There is a sense of altruism brought about by the holiday season. I think people oftentimes are exhausted at the end of the year. They have been running in the rat race, making their way in the world, and as the year ends, they let down their walls a bit and share a common humanity. People are thinking of others as they shop for special gifts, put together their holiday card distribution lists, attend holiday festivities together and spend time with family and friends. It’s just a jovial time.”

Elle Lanning, Senior Director of Communications at Do the KIND Thing: Projects, a program which crowd sources socially impactful ideas and gives away $10k to a winning project every month, adds “when people get in that holiday spirit, they feel compelled to go beyond giving just gifts but also their time, their kind words, and more. Spreading kindness or holiday cheer during this time can be as simple as giving a dollar to the homeless you encounter on your commute every morning, to volunteering, to distributing holiday meals to those in need, to treating a close friend to dinner. The possibilities are endless.”

The holiday season can be a dark time for those who are missing loved ones in their lives or who are struggling to make ends meet. How can one give back this season? It’s a time where we can open up our hearts to those in need while teaching the younger generations that there is more to this time of year than just receiving the latest tech gadget.

Kris Wittenberg gave a few great ideas on how to pay-it-forward over the holidays stating, “there are so many wonderful options for any budget or schedule.” She truly knows what it means to Be Good to People as she offered up these wonderful ideas:

  • Shovel the neighbor’s walk or clear their car of snow before they come out in the morning
  • Offer an elderly person, busy single mom, or someone fighting a debilitating illness help wrapping gifts or decorate the house for the holidays
  • Deliver homemade holiday goodies to a homeless shelter, women’s shelter or nursing home
  • Offer to read holiday stories to kids at the library or to residents at a nursing home
  • Adopt a family (check with your local social services, church or shelter) and surprise them with meals and gifts that fill needs and wants
  • Remember the people who serve with special gifts or notes of appreciation: the mail carrier, the garbage collector, the minister or choir director at your church, the crossing guard, librarian, lunch ladies or janitor at school, the first responders – anyone who makes your neighborhood run. And don’t forget your neighbors!
  • Host a holiday open house and ask that no one bring dishes or drinks but instead bring a new toy wrapped and labeled or a donation that will go to a local charity
  • Instead of just signing holiday cards and mailing them, write a personal note in each – come on, make time! What a difference that makes to the recipient!
  • Deliver warm clothes, socks, shoes, mittens, hats, scarves, and jackets to homeless people – include a warm meal or a gift certificate

While kindness knows no seasonal boundaries, the good holiday vibes, unfortunately, don’t always last forever. KINDS’s Elle Lanning explains, “most people get into the spirit and somewhat inherently fall out when the new year and busy schedules pick up again.” When asked about keeping the spirit alive she says, “The most important thing to remember is that it is simple to be kind and to do it all year round. People often think to do something good, they have to volunteer or write a check. Doing good for others could be simple daily tasks such as holding the door open for a stranger or buying coffee for your colleague.” By signing up for one of her local food bank’s newsletter, she stays in the know of everything they are working on or in need of throughout the year. Signing up for updates on causes you feel in alignment with is a good way to stay inspired and involved with your community as well.

There are so many ways to spread a little love and holiday cheer. Better yet, keep it going all year! What about you? In what ways do you and your family perform acts of holiday kindness? How might you keep the inspiration going year round? Please share with us in the comments below!

(For more from Dawn Gluskin, visit Dawnsense.com to sign up for her weekly love letters and join the inspiring Dawnsense Facebook community.)

photo by: asenat29

Reach Further: Your Life is Only As Big As the Communities You Serve

In a recent TED Talk, Dan Pallotta boldly stated, “No one ever went bankrupt giving to charity.” I love that line. The words remind us that we can give a little cash and still have enough to fill our own needs. That’s true of our energy, too. We can give a little time and still have enough to do the things we need to do.

So often we get caught up in the complexities of our lives and forget that we co-exist in a big world filled with people who need our help.  My vlog today is a loving challenge to parents. The hope is to inspire families to work together to serve the greater community, to spend time helping folks who can offer them absolutely nothing in return. Today’s message focuses specifically on parents because I blog about mindful mothering on Bringing Up Buddhas; but really this message is for everyone. CEOs and introverts, democrats and yogis, students and circus performers. We all have something to give.

So I’m officially dubbing this season the Summer of Service. A perfect time to let our babies use their superpowers to give freely, love wildly, and live fully.

Click to read the Huff Post article.

Click to read the story of my mentee and me.

Deepak Chopra: What Makes Us Human?

What, if anything, sets human beings apart from other species? More and more research in anthropology, primatology, and zoology points to the fact that, biologically and even behaviorally speaking, there is very little that defines humanity. Even empathy and altruism, characteristics formerly believed to be singularly human, are now known to manifest in many non-human species. In this week’s episode of “The Rabbit Hole” on The Chopra Well, Deepak Chopra explores this fascinating question about the uniqueness of the human species. Perhaps consciousness, alone, is not the answer to the riddle, but rather the remarkable way in which it functions in human beings.

As Deepak describes, consciousness sleeps in minerals, dreams in vegetables, wakes up in animals, and starts to become self-aware in humans. In word, action, and intention we have the limitless ability to reflect and consider chain reactions. Other barriers may otherwise inhibit us, but no one can curtail our inner freedom nor the self-awareness that generates infinite vision. When we ask ourselves questions like, “Who am I?” and “What do I want?” we turn the mirror back on ourselves and see all dimensions of our existence. We can play with new identities, experiment with different lifestyles, and experience the whole spectrum of sensations, while simultaneously knowing that identity and experience don’t constitute the Self. We are so much more than the sum of our parts, AND we have the ability to recognize this fact.

Now, of course we don’t know that other animals lack this trait (and even if they do, it doesn’t make us “superior,”) but you have to hand it to human beings for really making the most of our consciousness. Let’s be sure to live up to the name.

Subscribe to The Chopra Well and check out Deepak Chopra’s book, Spiritual Solutions!

Related Articles:

Deepak Chopra: Our Global Brain in the Age of Social Media

Why Kids (and Parents!) Need to Do Community Service

Deepak Chopra: How Science Explains Paradox

New Studies Suggest Plants Can Be Altruistic

dish gardens

While you most likely link altruism to humans and members of the animal family, new research out of McMaster University in Ontario, Canada and the University of Colorado Boulder shows that plants can actually be altruistic too.

McMaster researchers studied the relationship between ragweed and mycorrhizal fungi. This type of fungi lives in soil and works together with 80% of land plants, including ragweed. Plants give sugar to the fungus, and in return, the fungus gives water, nutrients, and in some cases protection from pathogens. Because groups of plants work together with the fungus, this allows some plants to “cheat” and take the benefits from the fungus but not give any sugar. Researchers wanted to find out if the plants working together with the fungus were siblings, would there be less cheating.

To study this, they grew pots of sibling ragweed and pots of unrelated ragweed to observe the size of both the fungus and the ragweed. It turns out that the sibling plants and corresponding fungi both grew larger and healthier than the unrelated ragweed – there was less cheating between the sibling plants.

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder found similar results when studying corn seeds. Each fertilized seed contained two “siblings”, an embryo (part of the seed) and an endosperm (tissue that provides nutrients to the seed). Researchers observed the difference in size between seeds whose siblings had the same parents and seeds whose siblings had different parents. Results showed that when the embryo and endosperm had the same mother and father, the endosperm gave more nutrients to the embryo.

While both of these studies achieved similar results, this is still a relatively new idea with many questions left to answer. One obvious question is how do plants know who their siblings are?

These studies confirm what I already know as a spiritual being – there is simply so much we can’t explain (observe, understand, know scientifically) about the complexity and workings of the universe and all the organisms that make it up. This, of course, doesn’t mean the complexity is any less real. Science is fascinating though, and I can’t wait to see what more researchers will discover.

photo by: hortulus

Do Good, Feel Good

There are lots of reasons why we should give back to the world, selflessly helping others. If you’re online on your computer (or iPad or smartphone) right now reading this blog, then chances are you have many blessings in life: you’re intelligent, educated, at least middle class by the world’s economic standards, and spiritually engaged. 

The good news is that performing altruistic acts doesn’t have to be about just alleviating guilt or fulfilling a religious obligation. Serving the world directly serves you, too. Numerous studies show that volunteering can boost self-esteem, fight depression and anxiety, reduce stress, and strengthen the immune system. I personally find it to be one of the most powerful methods available for getting out of my head and experiencing profound gratitude for my life.

So rather than simply throwing yet another party for our friends and family this past Saturday, my pals Kelly, Michael, and I decided it’d be great to direct our efforts towards a worthwhile cause. We put on a fundraiser for Surf for Life, a small San Francisco-based non-profit founded by surfers that is building the only high school in the coastal region of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. (FYI: I’ll be leading a karma yoga retreat to Puerto Viejo with Surf for Life from March 5-12, 2011. Click here if you’d like to learn more. Contribute to a great cause while doing yoga and surfing, and help build the school with your own hands!)

For the party, we asked for a $10 suggested donation from each attendee at the door, and we held a silent auction for private yoga, pilates, meditation and surf lessons, and more—all goods and services donated by ourselves and our friends. We got DJ Dane to spin for free, and a cool club called Sloane to open their doors early for no fee (only a bar minimum). With just a bit of advanced preparation and promotion via email and social media, we succeeded in raising $1600 during the evening.

Several of our guests commented that they felt great, too. Out on the town, meeting fun people, listening to great music, they were also making a difference–and they enjoyed that. It made for a terrific event with bubbling energy. I can’t wait to do it again.

Do you have an inspiring story of giving back that you’d like to share? How do you make a difference? What benefits do you experience as a result of doing good for the world?


The Dalai Lama & the Science of Compassion

There are three refuges of Buddhism: Buddha, dharma [wisdom teachings], and sangha [community],” His Holiness the Dalai Lama said last Friday as he sat on stage at Stanford’s Memorial Auditorium, wrapped in his trademark red and yellow robes. “There should be a fourth: science.” He followed this controversial remark with one of his delightful chortles, sounding more than a bit like Yoda.

I had the great honor of attending an all-day conference last Friday during which top scholars from Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, or CCARE (to which the Dalai Lama has given his largest personal donation ever to a non-Tibetan cause), presented their findings. CCARE’s mission is to study whether compassion is a teachable, trainable skill, as the Dalai Lama believes that it is the most important quality for the human species to cultivate for survival.

What I felt most inspired by, other than His Holiness’s delightful presence and frequent laughter, was the enthusiasm and obvious pleasure with which the scientists described their research. Here are just a few examples:

·      The head of the School of Education, Dr. Linda Darling Hammond, spoke of a program in which children at Stanford’s charter school in low-income East Palo Alto are being taught “habits of the mind and habits of the heart.” Researchers there have seen an increase in academic performance as well as pro-social behavior.

·      University of Oregon economics professor Dr. Bill Harbaugh talked about a study in which subjects were primed to feel compassion by watching a video of a man talking about his father’s unexpected death. They donated more money to a charity (ie, behaved more altruistically) than did people who had seen an emotionally neutral film.

·      Stanford psychology professor Dr. Jeanne Tsai described an eight-week compassion development program involving meditation, empathy exercises, and a gratitude practice. She and her colleagues hope to offer training in this methodology, so that people around the world can become certified in teaching compassion to others.

 The Dalai Lama pointed out that science, of course, can be used for evil purposes as well as for good. Just look at the atomic bomb. The intention of the scientists and people using the research is critical. And yet, on the whole, he obviously felt that science is beneficial: research that involves forming hypotheses, then testing them with data, and then proving them true or false. This, after all, is what the Buddha himself did throughout his lifetime in furthering his spiritual development. The Buddha even famously said, “Don’t believe anything I say unless you can prove for yourself that it is true.”

What do you think? Are scientific developments, on the whole, more beneficial or harmful for humanity? What do you make of His Holiness describing science as “the fourth refuge” of Buddhism? Does compassion training have the potential to help make people wiser, and to make them less war-mongering and destructive? Where do we go from here?


Selfishness and Altruism


Are we being selfish or self-centered if we choose our own desires or happiness before others’ happiness or expectations?


Yes, that is pretty much the definition of selfishness—putting your self-interest before others. But don’t beat yourself up about it too much, that is the common situation for everyone in the world.  However, through sincere spiritual development we can deepen and expand our self until its desires and drive for happiness includes and is harmonized with the desire and happiness of others. When our individual self expands to its universal status, there is no conflict between the interests of your Self and others’ selves. Compassion, love and altruism are natural and intrinsic expressions of who  and what you really are, not merely ideals of behavior you try to live up to.



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Pitter, Patter

It is raining outside.

Pitter, patter.

The rain makes a constant hum, as it falls on the roof.

Pitter, patter.

My niece rests on my lap, reading her book.

I stroke her hair.

Pitter, patter.

Flip, goes a page of her book.

We both inhale, then exhale.  In sync.

Pitter, patter.

It is otherwise quiet.

I close my eyes and listen to the hum.

I listen to our breaths.

I listen to the flip of a page.

And then my breath deepens.

The constriction I felt earlier in the day is now gone.

“I have a roof over my head,” I think to myself.

“I have so much.”

“There are so many who need.”

“There are so many without a roof.”

"What can I do to give?"


As we go through our day, experiencing a myriad of stressors, we can often get caught up and lost in tension, fear and frustration.  When the world around us falls prey to natural disasters and economic downfall, feelings of insecurity and scarcity become more prominent.  The result is that we act less generously and lovingly.


And when we live in the land of stress, we forget that we also live in a land of plenty; that there really is plenty to go around for all. 


So take a moment or two to slow down.  Then,

Listen to the raindrops. 

Close your eyes and follow the rhythm of your breath. 

Discover the stillness in the moment you are in. 

Appreciate all that you are and all that you have.



Then ask yourself, “What can I give?”


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