Last summer, I spent a few days at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City to see Mata Amritanandamayi, known throughout the world as Amma [“Mother”], the Hugging Saint. Amma has inspired and transformed more than 34 million people through her hugs, her spiritual wisdom and her network of global charities, known as Embracing the World. In 40 countries, Amma feeds the hungry, educates children and women, builds homes and provides healthcare and disaster relief for those in need. When asked where she gets the energy to help so many people, Amma answers, “Where there is true love, anything is effortless.” I watched this woman for three days as she hugged and inspired people for free no matter who they were, what they looked like or how much money they had. She stayed up all night long just to make sure each person who came to see her received a hug and had a chance to feel loved.
During the event, Amma told a story about a woman who boarded a bus. The woman sat right behind the bus driver and as he drove she gave him some peanuts. The bus driver did not want the peanuts but ate them because he did not want to insult the lady. A few minutes later she gave him some more peanuts and he reluctantly ate them again. When she tried to give him peanuts a third time he asked her, “Why did you buy a bag of peanuts if you don’t want them?” She responded to the bus driver, “Oh no, I hate peanuts. But I love chocolate. All they had at the store was chocolate covered peanuts. So I am eating off the chocolate and giving the peanuts to you!”
Amma told this story to make us reflect on how we give to other people. She said that people often give by writing checks with some extra saved money or give something away that they no longer need. This is all wonderful, yet, she questioned how often are we willing to give up what we truly love and enjoy for the benefit of another human being? How inconvenienced are we willing to be to help our neighbor, a friend or a stranger? She said if we think about it honestly, many of us are licking off the chocolate and only giving up the peanuts just to keep our lives the way they are today. Based on the current state of the world, Amma was helping us see that this way of thinking is no longer enough.
I have been struggling with this idea in my own life and it occurred to me that a small step in the right direction could be shifting the paradigm on New Year’s Resolutions. Instead of just planning to lose weight, exercise more, earn more money, go on a great vacation and find the love of our lives, MAYBE we can add a resolution or two for the sake of someone else who needs our attention or help. Maybe we can skip Sunday brunch with friends and volunteer at a hospital or identify a literacy program and teach someone to read. Maybe we can delay our purchase of the newest iPhone and instead give some money to a food bank. Maybe we can stop less at Starbucks and instead donate that money to a children’s hospital or provide a micro loan to help someone start a business in an impoverished country. Maybe it’s okay to sleep one less hour in order to listen to a person in crisis or skip a few workouts to help clean up a community park. Maybe we can stop looking at work emails for the sake of efficiency while riding the elevator and instead have a conversation with an elderly neighbor. Maybe we can volunteer to help out at a homeless shelter instead of bingeing on a television show. Maybe we can go to a protest against gun violence or another cause we feel strongly about instead of sleeping late on the weekend.
Amma inspired me to consider that Maybe it’s okay if our usual resolutions aren’t totally achieved. Maybe our bodies will be a little less toned, we will spend less time with friends and have less cash for take-out dinners. But if we are able to be a little more giving, MAYBE, just maybe, someone other than ourselves will be better off. And MAYBE, by shifting one resolution at a time away from our own needs and towards loving someone else, we will have made the greatest New Year’s Resolution of them all.
Originally Published in Psychology Today