Updated: Sep 14
I turned 46 a week or so ago. It's a tough thing to grow older, and birthdays are sometimes things to be dreaded.
I remember when I was a kid, birthdays were always something special. You got to bring cupcakes into class. People sang to you. You got presents
These days you get 100 well wishes from people on Facebook, and they all say the same thing because it's some Facebook scheme to entice you to use Facebook even more than we already do. I hate to think the people who wished me happy birthday on Facebook didn’t really mean it, and I did my perfunctory “Thank you to all the little people who wished me happy birthday” and that was it. But I don't play that game and never wish anybody a happy birthday on Facebook.
But that’s how birthdays are these days. No cupcakes, No singing. No presents.
Yup, 46 sucks just as much as 45 did and will likely suck as much as 47 will.
But when I turned 45 and again when I turned 46, and I hope it happens when I turn 47, I got a letter in the mail.
It was a standard business envelope with a big smiling sun decorating the front and a bunch of illegible block letters everywhere else on the thing in pastel colors. Inside was a piece of typing paper with more pictures and block letters that I think said something about how much the Lord loves me on my birthday.
It was clearly hand made and the return address was upside down, but it came from a woman in Beaufort, NC. I had no recollection of her, but my wife informed me that she was a member of the church where we were married, and we deduced that she must have found out that we were a year older from some church database.
That made sense because they started showing up after I left Beaufort, NC, and moved to Utah.
My wife got one too, and we were surprised that anyone remembered us. In truth, no one in the church even really knew our name, let alone that we were actually members who attended every Sunday.
Most Sundays when we lived there, we would get a warm smile and an extended hand from someone who we have never seen before, asking us where we were from and how we enjoyed “their” church service. They always had the same look when we explained that we had been attending the church for two years since we were married there and had been to every service, but had somehow never seen them before. They would smile and say “Oh well…_ and turn away to condescend to someone else.
Now, I am not saying the church was the entire reason we left Beaufort, but the church didn’t really cause any qualms in my heart when we quietly left town that April morning.
And so that was why it was so surprising that the church lady sent me and my wife handmade birthday greetings each year since. When it showed up this year, I knew I had to write about it.
I don’t know who this woman is other than maybe some vague notion of her belting out a hymn in the second to the front row of the church, perhaps. And I don't think she necessarily knows me or my wife. Although she might.
But what's so amazing about these letters is they show up, on time, every year, without fanfare and without thanks. She does it just to do it. My grandmother couldn’t get me a card on time when I was six, but this woman, who may or may not know me, gets me a handmade birthday letter on time for my birthday every year.
I think it may be here calling from the lord to spread the love to some poor soul who is getting older and may not have anyone to tell him happy birthday-maybe he’s not on Facebook.
And I have no idea if she knows how much I appreciate it, to see that letter show up each year, because it's something she clearly worked on and put effort into, to make my day special, and it lands smack dab in the middle of my heart and makes me happy each year.
And that's kind of the purpose of this podcast, isn’t it, how to find happiness.
I can only assume she gets enjoyment out of coloring a piece of paper and mailing it to me, and I get enjoyment from receiving it. She doesn’t get enjoyment from me receiving it because she doesn’t even know, until now, that I even open it. But she does it just for the sheer enjoyment of it.
And I have no idea if I am even right that she enjoys doing this, but she makes me happy when she does it just the same.
And isn’t that true happiness?
Enjoyment for the sake of enjoyment without any hope of reciprocity or response.
When was the last time you sent a card or a letter telling someone that you cared about them, without ever knowing if they would open it and not even caring if they ever did? Just sending it for the sake of sending it, to be happy.
Can you think of someone who could use a happy smile just because they are a year older? Or maybe they don’t even need to have a birthday, maybe it's just Tuesday, and you're glad they're alive.
There’s amazing power in offering happiness to another human being, whether they know you're offering it or not. The act of doing nice things for your fellow man begets happiness in the giver and the receiver, although they may have no clue that either is a part of that equation.
In a blog post, I found at https://www.scandigifts.com.au/power-of-giving
“Research has shown that people who are generous to others are much more likely to rate themselves as genuinely happy. This generosity, be it from giving money to a charity or an organization, buying someone a coffee and cake, or volunteering your time, releases a hormone called oxytocin into our systems that flood us with the feeling of pleasure.
Oxytocin is a hormone that helps to regulate our social interaction and works by building on those warm and fuzzy feelings that you get when spending time with friends, family or a loved one. It has been shown that acts of generosity also release this happy hormone into your system. And, for many of us, the more we give, the better we feel and the higher our oxytocin levels are. The higher our levels, the more likely we are to feel like giving and being generous. It’s a cycle that can start with small acts of giving and lead to much larger acts of kindness and generosity.
Generosity is more than the mere act of just giving something up to someone else. Rather, it is the act of letting go of time, money, emotions, and effort to help nurture someone else. While this has traditionally been aligned with loss and weakness, it is actually a sign of strength. There is power in self-sacrifice that those who choose to not be generous will never understand.
Generosity has the power to make us all much happier, not only through the release of oxytocin but through the cultivation of kindness, compassion, and the ability to help make someone else’s life just a little bit better. Rather than being miserly with our time and resources, practice generosity, and you have the potential to benefit from things that you may never otherwise have experienced or gained.”
So let's get your oxytocin levels up this week. Do something nice for someone else- whether they know it was you or not. Send a letter, bake a cake, sing someone a song. Just do something and tell me if it doesn’t feel good to do it- and let me know, at ImThatSailingGuy on Facebook. Just don't wish me happy birthday.