Mark Weber

Generosity brings a joy that’s virtually impossible to beat

There isn’t a whole lot of inspiring stuff on television these days, from the insipid (most sit-coms) to the depressingly exploitive and ridiculous (Toddlers and Tiaras).

But every once in a while, one comes across a diamond in the small screen wasteland. One such find is Secret Millionaire, which airs on Sunday evenings.

The premise of the show is simple. Multi-millionaires leave their opulent estate homes for six days and live in destitute areas of U.S. cities such as Detroit, Houston or Los Angeles.

It’s a fascinating journey. From the opening moments of the show where the participants are packing their suitcase with anticipation and nervousness to the final moments of the episode where they reflect on what amounts to a profound, life-changing experience.

On day one, they fly to wherever they’ve been assigned to go. A simple, very average car is there for them to drive to their temporary home, usually a run-down suite or apartment. Under the guise of making a documentary about volunteering in poor neighbourhoods, they then set about finding organizations that are working to improve the lives of those in those very neighbourhoods.

These can range from non-profits working to influence youth in positive ways to organizations providing shelter and programs to victims of domestic violence.

It’s not long before the walls start to come down and the millionaires get busy helping out in whatever way they can. Along the way, it’s amazing how quickly they get to know these faithful, hard-working frontline folks in the volunteer sector.

And this is where inspirational moment after inspirational moment hits viewers like welcome, refreshing waves. There are lots of touching, poignant moments where people open up their hearts to the millionaires, assuming they are just ordinary folks who want to lend a bit of time to the given cause.

Stories of painful backgrounds emerge. But often, folks that pour their hearts into volunteering are there because they’ve turned their lives around and now feel it’s time to give back. It’s a testament to hope.

By the end of the show, the millionaire reveals the truth about his or her background to the people they’ve worked with through the week, and hand over sizable cheques to the various causes. The people on the receiving end are, not surprisingly, shocked, very moved and delighted. There are tears of gratitude on both sides.

Last week, the founders of the fitness franchise Curves, Gary and Diane Heavin, spent time in an impoverished Houston neighbourhood and it was clearly a profoundly moving experience for them both. The highlight of the show isn’t just the presentation of the much-needed funding, it’s the unrestrained happiness that shines in the faces of the millionaires who have discovered, or re-discovered the joy that comes from giving. The Heavins were absolutely inspired and overjoyed with the prospect of giving – it was utterly magical.

People often say they have no time to volunteer. Or they may point out that giving away money, in any amount, is impossible for them to handle. But it’s not the amount that matters. It’s the willingness to take steps, even if they are small ones, in the direction of cultivating a sharing nature that matters.

I’m convinced it is indeed more blessed to give than to receive, although truthfully I didn’t always think that way much less live that way. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found collecting a bunch of stuff may bring a shot of happiness, but not the lasting kind.

On the other hand, knowing that I’ve helped someone, in some capacity, brings a satisfaction that knows no bounds.

Secret Millionaire is a reminder that the concept of giving holds true for all of us.

A person doesn’t have to have millions in the bank to experience the fulfilling nature of having a generous heart – whether it be with money, service or time.

In fact, it’s something that’s needed now more than ever.

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