Tuesday, December 22, 2009


This year I made Christmas tree ornaments for all of my local friends. It was a fun project, and I enjoyed coming up with ideas for ornaments that would be personally meaningful to each individual on my list. As I made each ornament, I amused myself by imagining the happy look on the recipient's face when he or she opened up the package. When I had my Christmas party, I got to see lots of those reactions in real life. The present opening was one of the happiest parts of my evening. When I do nice things for people, I love seeing the positive impact it makes on their lives, even if it's only something small like giving a friend a cute present. When I see happiness, laughter, or joy in others, then those buoyant feelings become mine also, and that's a really nice sensation.

I love seeing the payoff when I do something nice, but I know that's not always possible. Not all of my friends made it to my party. In a couple of cases, I didn't get to speak to the people at all when I left their presents for them. I won't be there when they open them, and I may never really get to find out how they felt when they saw what I made for them. The same is true in other areas of my life. For example, a few days ago I was shoveling my driveway after a light snow. When I finished with my driveway, I decided to shovel my neighbor's. I figured that she was at work and would appreciate not having to do it herself when she got home. Still, I haven't seen my neighbor since then, and there's no way for her to know that I was the one who shoveled her driveway. I won't ever really know whether or not I made her day by doing that chore.

I love sharing in people's joy when I do something that benefits them, but I don't just do good things for that payoff. I should enjoy doing nice things whether I'm around to see the reaction or not. Being kind isn't just about getting thanks or credit or feeling like a great person. It's about trying to make a difference for the other person, whether you get to be a part of the resulting joy or not. We may never know the full impact of our acts of kindness, but we can still feel good about doing them. Just because I don't see others' reactions to my work doesn't mean they weren't affected by it. If a good deed is done (in the forest) and no one is around to see it, it's still a good deed. That matters.

I felt happy just thinking of my friends as I made their presents, before they even knew that they were going to receive presents from me at all. I can imagine the happy faces of the people I won't get to see as they open their presents, and that's pretty rewarding all on its own. Sometimes it can be a beautiful thing to do something sweet and then walk away without any recognition, just knowing that I probably started a chain reaction that would cause someone else to smile. Imagining that smile can be just as nice as actually seeing it. I know the payoff is there, whether I see it or not, and that makes my efforts seem worthwhile.

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