Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The moment of giving

"Generosity lies less in giving much than in giving at the right moment. — Jean de La Bruyere"

The saying "It's all in the timing" tends to be related to a stroke of good luck, a serendipitous moment that occurs quite by accident with some great fortune attached to it. I am a huge fan of surprises. When I think about acts of kindness that I have experienced in my life, they came in the form of a surprise. My memory of the kindness has nothing to do with the actual gesture, but with the time that the kindness arrived.

My friend, Alex, is a fan of sending cards and little surprises in the mail. She sent me a magnet that I just love when I moved into my new apartment in New York. And she sent me a card during the summer I spent in Atlanta, which was miserable for a variety of reasons. She had no idea how much I needed a smile those days, though her timing was impeccable.

Even a well-timed, unsolicited compliment becomes an act of generosity. Occasionally I change out my picture on my blog or my Facebook page and I am always so touched when someone writes to me to say how much they like the new picture. The same goes for friends of mine who read my blog and reference it to me. I feel so touched when I know they've taken time out of their day to read what I'm thinking and writing about.

Simple phone calls do the trick, too. I am always excited to get a surprise call or voice message from someone I wasn't expecting to hear from, especially when it's not around a holiday or my birthday. I love those cards, emails, and messages that arrive just to say hi, for no reason in particular except to say "hey, I was thinking about you."

As I consider gifts I'll be giving this season I'll be thinking about the experience they create, how much joy they'll generate afterwards and hopefully for a long time to come. And this quote also gave me a third dimension to consider, timing. While the secret to a happy life may be to have low expectations, it may also be that we can generate happiness for others by providing unexpected generosity just when we sense that those around us need it most and expect it least.

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