Looking beyond the mantras and prayers…why active giving may be the missing piece to your happiness project

At a glimpse: I’ve come to find that these types of resources that focus on trusting the universe/God/spirit and visualizing what we want in life in order to reach happiness, neglect the importance of action, especially when it comes to giving to others.

Positive Psychology: the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.

Psychology has always been a favorite subject of mine, understanding how the mind works and how we can train our thoughts to influence our behavior fascinates me. Lately, I’ve been especially interested in self-help books and articles discussing happiness. I’ve incorporated many of the meditations and suggestions from great books such as Gabby Bernstein’s, The Universe Has Your Back and I often abide by, to a certain extent, the law of attraction, which I learned in the popular film The Secret.  However, I’ve come to find that these types of resources that focus on trusting the universe/God/spirit and visualizing what we want in life in order to reach happiness, neglect the importance of action, especially when it comes to giving to others.

It was during a random visit to a church service this past weekend (my father’s orders or as I should probably think of it, a sign from the universe) when I realized how many of the self-improvement tips out there are missing the vital concept of generosity - the quality of being kind and giving. During this service, hearing the priest speak about generosity was like a breath of fresh air after repeatedly reading self-help books tell me how to “send good vibrations and peace to the world”. Look, I’m all for meditation and I truly do believe that people give off certain energies that can spread to others, however, I need much more than this in order to live a meaningful life of fulfillment. Simply sitting in a pretty pilates posture humming mantras and meditating on how I wish recycling was a greater part of the culture in this city, or how I wish homelessness would vanish once and for all isn’t going to cut it. I have to actually DO something to feel like I’m making a difference, whether it be reaching out to local restaurants advising on waste reduction efforts, or asking a local non-profit how I can help in connecting the homeless with job training services, these are the actions, as minor as they may be, that have helped me sleep at night.

You see, I could feel satisfied with my health, family/friends, travels, etc., but unless I’m working to make a positive mark on this world, I won’t feel at peace with myself, and that’s the ultimate goal of all the self-help talk, no?  

To varying extents, I agree with the popular notion that all humans, regardless of class, have an intrinsic sense of compassion and desire to give to others.  This notion of “happiness running in a circular motion”[1] seems to be undervalued. Maybe if more of us honed in on this intrinsic drive and sought to give selflessly, thinking beyond our own lives by helping others, we could make one big step towards inner peace and happiness.

More on this from The Guide to Happiness, by Mark Manson:

“One Harvard Business School study found that giving to charity made people happier regardless of their country, how much money they gave, or even WHY they gave it. For instance, someone buying a gift for their sister created the same amount of happiness as giving a different amount of money to a homeless person. The theory goes that it’s not actually giving something away that makes us happy — it’s having perspective outside of ourselves that does. Research shows that keeping a journal, and writing down what one is grateful for in their life, both lead to greater levels of baseline happiness.[2]  It’s because these actions force us to cultivate a greater perspective other than just ourselves and our superficial desires.”


[1] Aknin, L. B., Dunn, E. W., & Norton, M. I. (2012). Happiness runs in a circular motion: Evidence for a positive feedback loop between prosocial spending and happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13(2), 347–355.

[2] Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389.

Plect-egg-ish?: An anecdote for why you may also need to create your own label 

At a glimpse: Fortunately, I have never had any allergy or intolerance to any food group. Unfortunately, I had imprisoned myself by prohibiting just tasting so many delicious foods... so, I created my own label “Plect-egg-ish”, combing plants, insects, egg, and fish.

In my previous blog post, you read about my inner battle to achieve moderation in the midst of all my passions and commitments. Perfectly living out the vegan label so that my diet was in line with my sustainability and health values exemplifies one of these inner battles. You see, turning vegan was not difficult. In fact, as long as I wasn’t traveling outside of the U.S., it was relatively easy because of all my reasons and passions. The difficult part of it all was relaxing and taking a step back from the label I seem to have super-glued all over me. I became so obsessed with making sure there wasn’t a touch of animal product on my food that if I discovered after the fact that I had eaten, for example, egg in my veggie burger that the waiter had mistaken for vegan, not only would my meal be ruined, but also my entire day was marked.

My extremism went beyond not eating animal products, it also included eating only whole grained, non-processed foods. I'd feel gross after eating flour burritos or regular pasta. If these were the only vegan options, I’d have the urge to workout as a form of detoxing the “crappy foods” outside of my system. Fortunately, I have never had any allergy or intolerance to any food group. Unfortunately, I had imprisoned myself by prohibiting just tasting so many delicious foods. After doing a mental cost-benefit analysis, I realized the stress I brought upon myself trying to be vegan 100% of the time, including traveling to foreign places and eating with my Brazilian family (who barely understood the definition of vegetarianism, much less vegan), just wasn’t worth my “trying to save the world” and “being the healthiest version of myself possible”. Recently, I’ve made strides in finding a balance. I didn’t beat myself up a few weeks ago in Italy when I tried my first cannoli, even after a plate of non-whole wheat pasta.  :)

Here in Miami I eat a plant-based diet with my ento cricket-flour made goodies. Occasionally, I’ll eat egg if it’s organic and free-range, and I’ll eat fish when I travel when there are few vegan, filling options as in not just an over-priced house salad made with lettuce and 3 grape tomatoes... I got tired of the feeling of defeat I’d get explaining to people that I’m vegan, but with some exceptions. You see, I was obsessed with the label for so long, that deviating from it to this day creates a wary feeling. I know, it sounds ridiculous to me too. So, to avoid this feeling, I created my own label “Plect-egg-ish”, combing plants, insects, egg, and fish.

If you’re strictly following any diet, whether it’s vegan, paleo, guten-free, you’re feeling healthy, and can honestly say that you’re satisfied, then keep doing what you’re doing. But, if you’re like me and you had a realization of the negative externalities affiliated with strict diets, then maybe its time for a meditative evaluation on the way you eat.

Gabriella Bastos
Every weakness has a corresponding strength

In a nutshell: Before you take to heart any piece of negative feedback, you have to contemplate how that weakness may serve you. Then, and only then should you think about how to address the weakness, otherwise you risk the chance of losing a corresponding strength.

It’s safe to say I embody the characteristics of a zealot, especially pertaining to waste, fitness, and food. Moderation has never been my forte and I’ve been told many times I embody the headstrong characteristics of a Taurus. When it comes to my passions for sustainability and healthy lifestyles, I’ve found myself getting so obsessed and distraught in a situation that I’ve thought in frustration, “sometimes I simply wish I didn’t care.” Having a peace-of-mind - a better way to say moderation since that word is purely subjective - seems to be a constant internal mission.

Whether it be obsessing with minimizing waste, following a plant-based diet, waking up at 5:30 to exercise even though my body craves more sleep, friends and family have advised that these are “extremist” habits, that I should be more “moderate”, and “choose my battles”. While my lack of moderation may resemble a weakness, I’ve learned that before you take to heart any piece of feedback, you have to first contemplate how that weakness may serve you. Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn offers this sound point*, “Most strengths have corresponding weaknesses. If you try to manage or mitigate a given weakness, you might also eliminate the corresponding strength.”

For me, I interpret my weakness of “extremism” as evidence of my passion and dedication. Sure, through most people’s eyes I’m sure its oddly extreme that I ask the bartender to not put a straw in my cocktail in efforts to live plastic-free, or that I bombard the waiter with questions regarding the fish on my menu (yes, this Portlandia scene totally resonates and anyone close to me understands #sorrynotsorry), but if I didn’t do these things and instead just talked the talk with no substantial action i.e. sad facing Facebook posts of seals choked by plastic bags, then I simply wouldn’t be myself. So, before you get too hard on yourself for a weakness, really take the time to consider to what extent that weakness is actually a problem worth addressing; you might realize that it’s not much of a problem at all when thinking about the bigger picture.

*Thank you Tea Time with Tara for sharing the post with this quote