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We’ve all heard it’s better to give than receive — but Cami Walker is
finding out just how much better. Walker, a small-business consultant in
Los Angeles, was a newlywed, newly diagnosed with MS, and spent much of
late 2006 and early 2007 in the hospital with horrific pain. While the
docs gave her drugs, a friend gave her an odd bit of advice: Give 29
gifts in 29 days.
We’ve all heard it’s better to give than receive — but Cami Walker is finding out just how much better. Walker, a small-business consultant in Los Angeles, was a newlywed, newly diagnosed with MS, and spent much of late 2006 and early 2007 in the hospital with horrific pain.
While the docs gave her drugs, a friend gave her an odd bit of advice: Give 29 gifts in 29 days. “I was like, ‘Ooookay, whatever. I can’t even walk. How is giving things away going to help me?’ And she’s like, ‘Just try it, it might help.’” So she did. And it did. Not right away, though.
Walker forgot about her friend’s suggestion, then came across her diary entry about it weeks later during a particularly painful, sleepless night. The next morning she called a friend who lives with MS. “We had a nice conversation that morning. That was my gift the first day. And things immediately started to turn around for me. It blew my mind.”
Walker decided to treat herself to breakfast out that morning, so her husband dropped her off at a coffee shop. Then two small but amazing things happened. Another diner secretly paid for her breakfast. And she was able to walk home on her own power.
She kept giving gifts. Not necessarily the kind in wrapping paper, but things or actions designed to improve other people’s lives. She did the dishes for her husband, which she hadn’t been able to do in a while. She made some charitable donations. She fed a neighbor’s kitten. She gave free time to clients and a bigger-than-usual tip to her massage therapist. And she kept feeling better.
Walker doesn’t claim that gift-giving directly impacts MS.
She still takes her meds. Rather, “it changed my thinking, which in turn had a positive impact on my health. It let me look at what I’m capable of every day. It helps shift my attention, because I was just completely obsessed with my misery. I really do believe that there’s great power in my thoughts, and if I’m spending all day obsessing about how I can’t walk, I’m just inviting more frustration into my life.”
Walker’s friend had picked up the 29-gifts-in-29-days concept from the teachings of two African healers, and Walker decided to give it an American spin with the 29-Day Giving Challenge, a Web site she launched in April 2008. The site includes a blog where people describe how their lives have changed since they started giving.
“I didn’t expect to have so many people sign up so quickly,” Walker said a month after the site launched. “I ask people to submit at least one story or piece of art at the end of their challenge or e-mail their story to me because part of it is about sharing.” People often ask if the gifts have to be made on consecutive days (answer: no, but try) and whether one can give a gift to oneself. “I say yes to that,” Walker said. “I think we have to be kind to ourselves if we’re going to be kind to others. You probably wouldn’t want to give yourself a gift every day, because that would defeat the purpose of trying to move your focus outside of yourself.”