They say that one of the best ways to be happy is to give. This is the story how I discovered this to be true.
After a day of working from home, I decided to go to a comedy club, a weekly event a few tube stops from home. As luck would have it, a private party had occupied the venue and my night of laughter was cancelled. There was nothing else in the area and my friends already had plans so, in a state of self-pity, I decided to wander home.
As I approached the tube station, I saw a homeless man wrapped in a dirty, old blanket. ‘Do I have change?’ I wondered as I spotted a coffee shop across the road. ‘But what if he doesn’t like coffee? Maybe it will be too black or too milky…’ Now, whilst this thinking might seem trivial, I’ve seen homeless folk complain! So I continued on my journey, feeling a pang of guilt. Then I passed a pizza stall and had a similar conversation with myself. There was a sense of wanting to give and simultaneously a hesitation that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
On the way, I passed a Big Issue seller talking to a young woman. (For those of you who don’t know, the Big Issue is a magazine that was created to help enable people who are homeless take control of their lives, earning a legitimate income by selling the magazine.)
“…Well, I live in a small flat…” the young woman was saying.
“I live in a tent so that’s really good!” exclaimed the seller. There was no self-pity to his words. On the contrary, he seemed to be fully supporting his doubtful young woman. He was enthusiastic, bubbly and there was an air of sincerity about him. His unashamed declaration made me smile to myself because he was a man who was undefined by his current situation; where he lived had no impact on his worth.
I went through the barriers to catch my train.
Then I stopped…
I was feeling down and disappointed after my failed evening plans. I wanted to give. That homeless man in his dirty, old blanket would benefit, I thought. And don’t they say that giving makes you feel better too?
I waved at the ticket man guarding the barriers. After explaining that I’d forgotten something and would take 5 minutes, he let me out. I ran to the pizza stall. I only had £2.10 in my purse and needed £2.85 for a pizza bread. The pretzels were £1.80 and the salty ones had gone. I settled for the sugar-coated cinnamon one. Not everyone likes cinnamon but hopefully the homeless man would like it, my reservations about his favourite flavours gone.
As I walked towards him holding my warm, cinnamon smelling wrapper, I saw the homeless man in the distance – puffing on a cigarette and talking on a mobile. I spun around. ‘Well, if he has money for cigarettes and phone credit…he doesn’t need it!’ I thought resentfully. In hindsight, I recognise the snap judgement I made – there is, of course, the possibility that he was given the cigarette or it was from an old packet and reserved for particularly sad days and that the phone credit had been given to him by a charity. However, in that moment, those were my thoughts.
As I stormed back to the station I, quite literally, bumped into the Big Issue guy from earlier. I’d completely forgotten about him. Without a thought or a hesitation I handed him the warm cinnamon bundle. “Would you like a cinnamon pretzel?” I asked, my whole heart open to give this stranger a gift.
“I’d love it! Did you hear me tell that woman I loved them? They’re my favourite!”
“No I didn’t. Have a lovely evening.” I said. I smiled and walked away.
“You too!” he shouted back.
Off I went, back through the barriers, skipped onto my tube and grinned the whole way home. This amazing man – open, excited, genuine – and his straightforward, unabashed acceptance of my cinnamon pretzel had lifted my mood. In that moment, one person had given a gift, not out of pity, guilt or need, but rather out of human connection, of giving and sharing, whilst another person had gratefully accepted the gift with an open heart.
This is the best way to give; and what’s better is what you receive through that gift:
A new connection.
A thankful smile.
A warm heart.
Also published on Medium.