Sunday, May 17, 2009

The key to happiness

Is to look outside yourself. Enough with the me-fest. It's better to give than to receive.

I realized this when I was twenty. And I tried my hand at it. And failed. Miserably.

I started by volunteering at a literacy non-profit in India, teaching street kids to read and write. These were slum kids who were the brightest sparks you can possibly imagine, the happiest souls possible. I did it for a while and had some truly funny sad moments when predictably, I got lazy. I had to take a bus for an hour and a half just to get to this railway station platform where the teaching was imparted. I was getting sun headaches every time I went. And so, I did what any sane person would do, I ashamedly admit. I quit.

The bug struck again in business school. In college I satisfied my social consciousness by taking home everyone's garbage, garbage that they would otherwise have been thrown on the streets and littered the city. Anyhoo, at business school, I signed up to work with Habitat for Humanity. Wonderful cause, team builder, lots of physical work which I love. I really do! Only thing, my lazy butt couldn't get up at the necessary 5:30 on Sundays in order to start working. And so, again, I quit. I tried being a mentor to an inner city kid, through a program at b-school. It seemed, however, more self-serving to us students, visiting the schools once a week, making small talk. It didn't seem we were of any real help to the kids. I quit.

I know, I know what you're thinking, you lazy commitment-phobe sh%! you! And I would agree. I had no excuse. I was a spoilt, lazy pig.

Some years ago, when the bee in my bonnet wouldn't go away, I tried googling "volunteer" and guess what, it's sort of like opening a kitchen cabinet filled with water. It just gushes at you, overwhelms you. What cause would you like to adopt--kids, cancer, women, literacy, hunger, poverty, animals, eyeglasses arrgh, stop!! I quickly close all the pages and try to recover normal breathing again. I shall give them money. That's what I'll do. That way I can support more than one thing for there is so much need out there, how much can one puny person do! This is when I started writing checks.

In my defense, these days, I serve on the board of an arts non profit, give away my time away. It's a relatively well-to-do outfit, I must add (sheepishly). No one's dying or anything but its art and who cares about art these days, right? And art's important. I also give bigger money away, and not just those $15 checks that get you the free tote bags. Oh and I also refuse birthday presents for my kid. I ask other people to give money away on my behalf.

Big deal. Real queen, aren't I?

But you know the satisfaction just ain't there. Its cool and all, being able to help in so sterile a way but it's sort of like hearing about a beautiful sunset or having someone else plant a row of flowers for you. Gorgeous but unsatisfying somehow.

Now that the bug is biting again and I am ready to brave google once more, I think of the time I taught a slum child to to do math by having him think of numbers as he would money. The A-ha moment he realized that they were all numbers and if he could do sums in his head for money, he could add any numbers just fine. The moment when I helped out a sick relative and how wonderful it felt just for having been there for hand holding. The moments when I cleaned the streets outside the building we lived in because I was just sick of seeing people throw out garbage without a care. How they stared at me, standing at their balconies watching the "doctor's" daughter sweep the streets that only their poor "lowly" overworked sweeper woman would normally do. The look of utter love my friend gave me when I helped her clean out her flooded basement. Small moments but such satisfying ones.

Perhaps collecting tote bags is perfectly fine but if one can also find just one thing to support and work at, plunge into wholeheartedly. Give wholly to. One cause so dear that it would bring out the best even in a lazy pig like me. Wouldn't it be wonderful?

Now if only I could find someone other than Google to tell me just what that might be...