The Way I See It: Why Thankfulness and Selfishness Go Hand in Hand

12/31/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Last week, I wrote about the benefits of selfishness, especially to those of us who are people pleasers. I had no way to predict the flood of responses I received from women expressing their gratitude that someone was giving them permission to take care of themselves FIRST. Here's what Jessica from Texas had to say on the matter:

"I have to say I am thrilled to be coming to the end of the year - it seems like there are a lot of days off, etc. And I would like to think that I have crafted my holidays to meet more of my needs than my imaginary obligations these days, and it most certainly didn't used to be like that. I remember spending hours, days on hand-crafted gifts for all of my family members and then been totally shocked when I got something incredibly impersonal in return. I once got a hair chamois from my cousin - you do not want to know. Now my family goes gift less, except for the children, and I informed my husband last night that over the holidays we would all be making sandwiches for my synagogue's sandwich drive and serving them at a homeless shelter. Including him. Because the children need to see the adults in their lives doing these things. In years past we would adopt a family and buy them toys, but you know what? I would rather serve food to homeless people because even buying other kids toys seems a little materialistic to me this year. This is probably way more than you wanted to know, but my point is, I love the fact that being "Selfish" can actually evolve into being more "selfless" since my selfish self actually wants to do things for others this holiday! So there!"

Here's what Amy from Florida said:

"Such an important reminder in a season when SO much obligation comes up. I would love to receive the needs list if you can send it. PS if anyone ever calls me selfish, I smile and say thank you! It sure has taken practice to become more full of self!"

Now having shared all of that, I'd like to now focus on the Jessica's experience that having taken care of her own needs; she had the desire and the energy to focus on doing things for others this season. Let's talk about the importance of volunteering our time. I think it's wonderful and admirable if you are generously giving money to the myriad of charities and non-profits that need it. They couldn't do their work without money. But if you're looking for the ultimate "feel good" experience, there is nothing more potent than volunteering yourself to a worthy cause.

My personal experience is all I have to base this on. For much of my life I have battled depression, and for much of my life I have volunteered to help those that I felt were less fortunate than me. Even in my times of deepest sorrow, volunteering has given me the perspective that I needed to go on. Additionally, it added to my self-respect which was critical at a time when I felt I wasn't worth very much. I once heard it said that self-esteem comes from doing "esteem-able " things. I wholeheartedly agree with that.

If you are one of the millions that doesn't have the ideal family, or the job or relationship of your dreams, please do not despair. Getting "out of yourself" by helping someone else can give you an immeasurable sense of connectedness and gratitude. Case in point: Every year my partner and I load up the Harley with toys and ride on over to the Glendale Harley dealer where we are met with hundreds of other biker enthusiasts. From there we all ride over to skid row downtown where we unload thousands of toys for the children living in the shelters there. Picture the toughest "biker dude" you can imagine with a little girl's bike, pink tassels on the handle bars, flowered seat and pretty pink basket, bungee-corded to the back of his hog! I'm not joking. It happens every year. Teddy bears of all shapes and sizes strapped to the front of the bikes diligently guide their drivers to the awaiting children. It's a sight to see. Then we spend hours handing out the precious cargo to chubby little hands and the sparkling eyes of the children, while their grateful parents help them make their choices. Okay, I'm getting a little teary just writing this!

This morning I came across an article about an amazing 11-year old boy named Brenden Foster. For those of you who don't know the story, Brenden had been told he was dying of Leukemia. On the way home from one of his clinic visits, he spotted a large group of homeless people. He said "I thought I should just do something", but he was too weak to do it alone. So he and others started a food drive in his town and the story caught on so that many more towns and cities have since gotten involved. Brenden's one wish in his remaining days was to help others that needed helping. My Lord, what an inspiration! Brenden died last Friday, but his legacy lives on. Sorry, tearful again.

The way I see it is this boy is an inspiration to us all, no matter how much time left we have, no matter how much or how little money we have, we ALL have the choice to give of ourselves in making this crazy, wonderful, broken-down world a much better place. Try it this season. You'll be very glad you did, and from a selfish point of view, you'll get back so much more than you gave.