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The Coping Strategy That Gives Back

By Blogger
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On my way home from picking up some burritos for dinner I heard a wonderful story on the radio. A local fireman was struggling with his wife’s cancer, three children including a new baby, medical bills, etc. and was pretty much at the end of his resources. He had used all his savings, vacation, and sick time and was about to lose his home and car.

The other guys at his fire station started a fund-raising drive and enlisted the station to which I was listening. They had just completed a drive-up donation campaign in a local parking lot and raised, I’m not kidding, $40,000! Plus another $15,000 in mailed-in contributions! Zowie! That’s got to feel pretty good for everyone; the organizers as well as the donors.

There was a story on this morning’s news about a mentally-challenged man who mowed lawns to make some money. He saved and purchased a fancy power-mower all by himself and he was very proud (rightfully so) of what he had done. Then the new mower was stolen and he was devastated. The news got out and some strangers stepped up to the plate and bought him a new one. What a rush that must have been for them!

I was recently at a breast cancer symposium and met one of the doctors who helped develop the drug that has halted the spread of my wife’s brain tumors. I’m convinced that this drug has saved her life. As luck would have it, she called me while I was thanking him; when I told her who I had just met she wanted to talk to him and I handed him the phone. As he listened, his face lit up and just before he handed the phone back to me I heard him say, “You just made my day.” Chris later told me that it “made her day” to “make his day.”

Here’s the point: a good way to cope is to do something to help someone else. When you do, a couple of things happen. First, it takes your mind off of your own problems for a while and it’s always nice to take a short “vacation” from your worries.

Second, it’s hard not to feel good when you’ve helped someone else feel good. You know how good it feels when someone does something special for you; imagine how good it will feel to know that you inspired that feeling in someone else.

What about cost?

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A few years back it was popular to see bumper stickers encouraging us to "Practice Random Acts of Kindness." It was all about finding nice things to do for people without worrying about getting credit for it. Maybe it was as small as leaving your change in a soda machine for the next person to find, or putting a quarter in a parking meter that was about to expire. Or maybe it was as large as buying that man's power mower. You could let a stranger into a long line of traffic. You could leave a big tip on a table for a college student who waited on you, or leave a gift basket on an elderly neighbor's porch, or buy a book for a child at the bookstore during the holidays. I remember the feeling you describe. Thank you for reminding me how good it feels to do something for someone else, especially in an anonymous way.

December 18, 2009 - 8:46am
Blogger (reply to Diane Porter)

Thank you, Diane - yes, random acts of kindness certainly are on the radar although I don't mind if you get credit for your good deed! I've tried the random approach and it's fun, but it is much more fun to see, hear, and feel the appreciation. In my program I talk about retired morticians who live across the street from us. He recently died at 84 and his wife is alone and frail. When my wife and I go to the market we sometimes buy her a cooked chicken and bring it over to her... what a rush to see the look on her face! I guess it would be equally nice of us to just leave it on her porch anonomously, but it's much more fun for us to hand it to her.

December 18, 2009 - 9:28am
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