Such a great way to display how to acknowledge the important aspects of life!
Who wants pie?
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Kindness or Codependence?
One of my favorite childhood books was The Giving Tree. I wanted one so badly—an actual giving tree, I mean. Now, I was the only child in a family that was materially abundant, but emotionally bankrupt, so it’s no wonder I fell in love with this story.
As a quasi-adult in recovery from life in general, I sometimes hear people refer to the fabled Giving Tree as the Codependent Tree. This never fails to light a fire in my heart on the subject of kindness and giving versus codependent and unhealthy behavior. In the story, the boy and the tree have a very special relationship. The boy goes to the tree when he needs help, and the tree gives what it can to meet the boy’s needs. As the boy grows up, the tree grows old. In the end, the tree has become a stump, which is just what the boy, now an old man, needs to rest. The tree has given the boy everything it had to help him. It’s a beautiful thing.
In my life, people have often held back from acting kindly and giving themselves to others as a way of avoiding being codependent. Don’t misunderstand me. True codependence, of which I am admittedly inflicted with myself on occasion, can be a truly destructive and unhealthy behavior. Many times I have heard people say they choose not to help someone in need because they “have to take care of themselves.” Other times I have experienced friends turn away from people in the name of teaching them to be more self-reliant. I think it’s the humanness and neediness that repels them because it triggers internal feelings of need and discomfort.
So where is the line? When does kindness become codependence? When are we holding back from opening our hearts to another because their pain scared us? When are we protecting ourselves and others from unhealthy and dysfunctional dependencies?
Until I find the answer for myself, I will keep my heart open to giving and receiving kindness to the best of my ability. When I start cutting my arms off for people, I will re-evaluate.
The results are in: kindness promotes a longer and healthier life. It’s like the ultimate happy pill. But unlike drugs, addiction to kindness is good for you.
Scientific research shows that being kind is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. Performing kind acts can significantly improve mental, emotional and physical health, and even helps diminish symptoms of physical diseases and psychological disorders. In his book, The Pleasure Prescription, Dr. Paul Pearsall writes: “In concrete terms, there seems to be a biological reward for doing the right thing. It is not necessary to carry out major acts of kindness to gain the health benefit. In fact it has been found that brief, small, regular acts of kindness yield the highest health benefits.”
According to Allan Luks and Peggy Payne in their book The Healing Power of Doing Good, kindness:
- Promoted optimism
- Heightens our sense of well-being, and can even bring on a euphoric state
- Increases energy levels
- Decreases feelings of loneliness, depression and helplessness
- Increases sense of connectedness with others
- Helps achieves a greater sense of calmness and relaxation
- Enables better weight control
- Reduces symptoms of insomnia
- Strengthens the immune system
- Reduces pain
- Improves circulation and reduces high blood pressure and coronary disease
- Improves digestion
- Relieves arthritis and asthma
- Increases recovery from surgery
- Reduces cancer activity
A participant in Luks’ research relates his story: “Some months ago I was so stressed out that I could barely get four hours sleep at night, and I had all sorts of aches and pains. I had even tried antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs, but to no avail. I then found out first hand that it is love that truly heals. When I do nice things for others, I definitely feel a physical response. For me it is mostly a relaxation of muscles that I hadn’t even realized had been tensed. I can now sleep well at night, and most of my aches and pains have disappeared.”
So why does kindness make you feel so good? There are two reasons. The first is that performing acts of kindness takes our mind off our own problems. The second is that while performing an act of kindness, our bodies reward us by triggering the release of endorphins, an endogenous opioid peptide that gives us a sense of exhilaration and wellbeing, helps reduce the intensity of pain messages sent to the brain, and boosts our immune systems.
There is one important catch. In order to benefit from a kind act, we must do it without expectations. If we expect recognition and the act of kindness is not acknowledged or appreciated, we might end up feeling angry or disappointed. In this mindset, the chemical benefit is lost. The negative feelings cause cellular inflammation, which is actually damaging to our health.
Like other things that impact our health, kindness is contagious. It has a ripple effect. When people receive or observe kindness, they are inspired to be kind themselves. In effect, when we choose to do a kind deed, we are actively helping reduce world tension by starting the healing process one person at a time. It begins with us.
Everywhere we go, we are bombarded with advertising about the importance of showing gratitude to our mothers on their special day with material gifts ranging from greeting cards to diamond jewelry. The message is clear – we should feel bad if we don’t buy something for mom.
As a mom, the gift I want most from my daughter is much more simple, free and intangible. Reading me a poem, singing a song, serving me breakfast in bed, making me a home-made card, or just spending the day with me doing things I like is all it takes to warm my heart. The love is not in the gift, it’s in the thoughtfulness and care that my child puts into her gesture of gratitude that matters. I think we underrate how much impact acts of kindness have on our mothers, but it’s the best way to show we love them.
I am not sure a mother’s kindness can ever be fully repaid. Perhaps that is all the more reason to adopt a practice and make a habit of reciprocated kindness. I say don’t feel obligated to spend a lot of money on a gift for Mother’s Day. Spend time and energy showing you care. All she really wants is to know she is appreciated.
Kindness is priceless…just like our moms.
My mom passed away a few short weeks later. I did as I was instructed. I kept that present in a safe place though I checked on it and wondered about it over the years. Finally, I presented it to Elle on her 5th birthday. Elle tore it open…pretending to read the card that said “Happy Birthday Eleanor. Love, GaGa”. Inside was a beautiful American Girl Doll that looked just like Elle…long blonde hair, blue eyes, just beautiful. Elle was aglow! She jumped up and down hugging the doll and then began thanking me. I told her that it was from her grandmother, GaGa. Now, Elle knew that GaGa was my mom and was in heaven and although she met Gaga , she didn’t remember her she was just a baby. Elle looked confused and asked me “How did GaGa get this to me from heaven?” I kept it simple and told her that GaGa was very smart and knew that you would love a doll that looked just like you!” Again, she beamed and asked “How does she know what I look like?” And I replied, with a lump in my throat, “Because you look just like me”.