Last week I watched ABC's new show, "The Secret Millionaire," which places millionaires in low-income communities, strips them of all their worldly possessions and asks them to covertly find worthy organizations with which to volunteer and eventually to make a sizable donation to. I cried.
I cried not for the organizations that received the surprise monetary gifts, but for the millionaire who comes to realize, in the end, that the power of generosity can make you giddy.
I then went online and watched all three episodes available. It was the same storyline every time. The millionaire starts out complaining about the beat up car they are provided with, only to arrive at a dirty, uncomfortable apartment where they will have to live on the equivalent of weekly welfare. They each spent the first of five days intensely missing all that had disappeared from their daily lives of convenience. It always begins with "me".
But then something magical happens. Forced by their circumstances to reach outside of themselves and connect with their neighbors and fellow do-gooders in the community, their sense of humanity emerges. Their faces begin to change. Stripped of the stigma and posturing of being a millionaire, you can literally see how dropping their identity leads to letting go of their fears. The "me" expands.
By the end of just five days undercover, each of the three millionaires I saw made lifelong friendships with individuals working in community service. Best of all, these people, who are so wealthy that they have everything they desire, finally started to look happy. The moment they light up is on the final day, when they get to reveal their true reason for being there and make a real difference in the lives of people whom they know are doing important and effective work.
As one millionaire put it, "I couldn't sleep last night! I feel like a kid in a candy store!"
I began to wonder, when was the last time that man felt so happy? He certainly didn't look very happy in the footage from his mansion. And to think that all it took was the opportunity to give $100,000 dollars away. But, of course, it was more than just the money. His joy came from knowing that he had genuinely made a difference in someone's life. His life, in turn, was given meaning, and no amount of money can buy that. The real beneficiary of the show was not the folks he came to help, but the millionaire and the feeling of worth the experience brought into his life.
The best part: That same feeling is available to you and me, the non-millionaires of the world. Every one of us can look at our lives and find places where we can give up a bit of convenience for the sake of someone else.
What do you spend everyday on a cup of coffee? How much do you really get out of Netflix? Giving money away, being of service to someone really in need, feels much better than acid-reflux or a caffeine high, and much more fulfilling than a few hours in front of the TV.
We seem to have this notion that we can only give to others once our needs are met and most of us do not have the resources to fill all of our needs. Therefore we spend our days stuck in the "me", never seeing ourselves as someone who can give, too focused on what we want to think of the needs of others. This is a lonely and sad state of mind to reside in. Even the show propagates the idea that in order to be generous, you need to have more than your share.
But what we often forget, or perhaps were never taught, is that the happiness we seek can only be found when we reach outside of ourselves and help someone. There is tremendous joy found in the act of giving. A joy, that even if you had millions, you cannot find living in isolation.
The world is full of sadness right now and the need for generosity, from Japan to Detroit, is at its highest. Herein lies your opportunity for joy, a chance to actually fill the void you are feeling while being so self-involved. Give some of what you have away, however small, and see what happens.
The secret is that the Secret Millionaire is you.
Featured contributor to Ed and Deb Shapiro's new book, BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You And The World, with forewords by HH Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman.