For it is in giving that we receive.
My wife Margot loved Thanksgiving—so much so that in 2010, when the aggressive breast cancer she’d been fighting for almost a decade returned and we picked up the test results on the last Wednesday in November, she insisted on putting them aside and not opening them until after we’d celebrated her favorite holiday with our family and friends. Although we knew the news was bad, Margot had an amazing ability to not focus on her own hardships, but to celebrate and be grateful for the blessings in our lives.
It turned out that Thanksgiving was our last. A little more than six months later, Margot passed away, but in those six months she gave me a gift I’ll always be grateful for. So as the holiday approaches, I look forward to coming together with my loved ones and giving thanks for what she taught me.
Over those months, I watched Margot slowly let go of her attachments to all the material things of this world. And what I noticed was that in their place appeared more love, more joy, and more gratitude.
Sometimes she seemed to me to be almost radiant with love, even when her body was the most bruised and weak. Through this, she taught me that what matters most is not the things we have—it’s the space we have in our hearts for love. And what brings the deepest fulfillment is not the love we can get—it’s the love we can give.
For me, this was not an easy lesson to learn (as I share in my recent book Love Unfiltered) but it is the one I am most grateful for. Since I lost Margot, not a day goes by when I don’t miss her presence, but she left me with something that has given my life more meaning and purpose than I could ever have imagined. In the months after her passing, I started helping other women who suffered from cancer, and discovered a secret that I’d heard many great spiritual and motivational teachers speak about, but never quite believed.
What is the secret? It is simply that what you freely give, with a loving heart, comes back to you, many times multiplied. Many of us go through life with the nagging sense that something is missing—like an inner void that we feel we need to fill. But when you turn that notion on its head and start giving instead of taking, you will find, to your surprise, that you start filling up.
Some people call this the “law of reciprocity.” The Bible says, “Whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (Corinthians 9). Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar used to say, “You can have everything you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.”
My favorite expression of this secret is: “You can’t out-give God.” (If you’re not comfortable with that term, substitute “the universe” instead) No matter how much you give, more will come back to you. The only caveat is that you have to give with a pure heart, out of love—not out of duty, obligation, or desire for anything in return.
Try it! This Thanksgiving, as you gather with your family to be grateful for the things you have, take a moment to give something to someone else. It could be money, it could be a few minutes of your time, it could just be your love, prayers, attention, or a smile. You may notice a surprising result.
This week, to celebrate Thanksgiving, I donated a hundred and fifty turkey dinners to local families in need. The joy of doing that has already returned my gift many times over. Even if you can give just one family a dinner, or give someone you love a seat at your table, or take a moment to call a friend or help a neighbor, you’ll feel it. Don’t wait to start giving until you think you have enough, or you are good enough. Start today, right now, with an open and compassionate heart. You will find that your ability to give and to serve becomes the thing you give thanks for above all else.