Wise Selfishness: Filling Your Bucket Through Kindness

There is an unmistakable heaviness in the air. Our world is hard to face right now, it’s hard to associate with. Focus eludes me as I feel as if I am drowning in a sea of helplessness. Not so much me being helpless, as in a state of victimhood, but that I am unsure what I can do to be helpful. At this time it feels good to be needed, the laborious work of parenting young ones is actually a liberation as I must “mom” and cannot lose myself in the rabbit hole of tragedy reported by the news. I have to feed them, I have to engage them, I can’t sit and stew in contemplation. 

When I feel like burying my head in the sand or under a blanket, when days are long and hearts are heavy, I look to find a refreshing breeze. In these times of deep collective anguish looking within to find balance seems to be only half the answer. 

I recently picked up this book for my kids: Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids. It teaches us that everyone carries an invisible bucket and its purpose is to hold good feelings about our ourselves. We can fill our own buckets and we can help to fill the buckets of others, which in turn also helps to fill our buckets. There is also “bucket dipping,” which is trying to take from others because one’s own bucket is already empty. These days is it not uncommon in my house to hear throughout the day or while being tucked in bed at night, “You fill my bucket.” 

In the podcast Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris: The Dalai Lama’s Advice for Right Now His Holiness the Dalai Lama talks about the concept of “Wise Selfishness” and explains that by caring for others and our community, we lift ourselves up.  

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: “The meaning of life is compassion. Is it through reasoning that your own well being depends on others. Taking care about others is actually taking care of yourself. [It is ] the best way to take care of your own happiness, [to have a] happy life, you should take [care of a] sound community. The best way to take care of your own selfish interest, you should take care about others. Selfishly taking [of] just yourself is narrow, foolish, shortsighted. You love yourself, take your [own] care [however] the basis of your own life depends [on others]. You should take care more of them. Altruism is the ultimate source of happiness. God creates our brain so we must utilize our brain properly. 

Dan Harris: I’ve heard you describe this as wise selfishness. If we’re feeling anxious or scared in our current circumstances from what I hear you’re advising us to turn our attention outward to help other people and that will in turn make us feel better.”

This was also clearly described on the Dalai Lama’s Facebook post back on January 23, 2012: 

“It is important that when pursing our own self-interest we should be “wise selfish” and not “foolish selfish”. Being foolish selfish means pursuing our own interests in a narrow, shortsighted way. Being wise selfish means taking a broader view and recognizing that our own long-term individual interest lies in the welfare of everyone. Being wise selfish means being compassionate.

This holds truth more now than ever. This is when action is needed more than ever and inaction is NOT the same an neutrality. Sitting in our own bubbles because we feel as if we already have too much on our plates or because we are unsure what to do is actually part of the problem, it contributes to maintaining the current status rather than stopping the cycle.

To me this means, in the simplest terms, that I can lift myself up not just by being a good person but by taking action and lifting up others. I can bring myself hope and joy by inspiring hope and joy in others. I can love myself by showing love to others. As a person and a citizen this means taking care of ourselves BY caring for our communities and all the people of our nation. This is the definition of being a global citizen. 

When I think of what I can do to lift up others the mantra “Think Globally, Act Locally” resonates. I say, do what you can. First and foremost, practice safe distancing and hygiene in recognition of the Covid pandemic and seek out resources to become informed as to how to help against the plague of racism facing our country. Here is a resource shared by a friend of mine that I have found helpful: Guide To Allyship. There is also this document circulating with a variety of resources: Anti-racism resources for white people.

Secondly, become a source of love and light and share your gifts, whatever they may be no matter how big or small. Perfection is not required but intention and action is. Donate if you can and spread light and love.

Many fellow moms may relate to my practice, but I’m a sneaky rock stasher. The art project of painting rocks initially intended for my kids has taken on a life of its own and I have found my own source of zen, carrying out the hobby long after their interests have waned and in the hours after they have gone to sleep. I don’t expect my little painted rocks that I scatter about on my daily outings with my children to change the world, but I do hope they help others to smile, maybe to allow a little sunlight to peek though the dark clouds gathered overhead and inside our hearts. I commit to cultivating the practice of bringing joy to others within my children. By trying to help fill the buckets of others, even in this infinitesimal way, it helps fill mine as well. 

For the parents out there, I ask you to be intentional. Take a look at your own actions, consider what example you may be setting for your children. Teach our youth to spread love and be inclusive. Here is a helpful article on how to approach the topic of inclusiveness with your kiddos: 10 ways white families can teach their kids about race consciousness.

When sharing love and helping to lift others up, do what you can. Every little bit helps. 

Cover image available at Tiny Human Print Co.

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