Close Connections: We are our contributions

NancyNormannewmugwebBy Nancy Norman

Making a contribution in this life is a basic need for most of us. The older we get, the more we think about what legacy we’ll leave. And if we think contributing means money, we might not see there are many ways to give in relationships and to the world at large. The biggest contribution is us.

Webster says “contribution” means to participate in. It comes from the Latin “to bring together or unite.” Another definition says it’s the part we play in bringing about a certain result. Synonyms are “gift” and “offering.”

Let’s look at some everyday contributions we can make:

  1. Smiling. One of the biggest gifts we can give is a smile. It’s free, and it helps us too. It has the potential to soothe a hurting heart for a moment. It’s contagious in the best sense of the word as most people smile back almost automatically and can get a momentary lift, sometimes despite feeling blue.

Health reports say when we smile, it lowers blood pressure and helps our immune system function better, increases endorphins (the body’s natural pain killers), reduces stress and muscle tension – all of which allow our brain to remain more alert and our bodies to stay healthier. (Not to mention the side effect of becoming more attractive, as people are generally drawn to those who smile.)

  1. Modeling. We contribute to our relationships and the community by the way others see us living every day. Striving to be as honest as possible, trustworthy, dependable, consistent and respectful all adds to others feeling safe around us and increases our own self-esteem. Though living these traits is often not the easiest path, we contribute to making the world a better place when we do.
  1. Serving. Offering our service (helping someone pick up something they dropped), ideas (sharing what and how we’re thinking), volunteering to help a neighbor or organization (even once in a great while), donating goods (clothes, furniture, a can of soup)—all these gifts make something happen. The ripple effect is a physics fact in a world where all events are connected. That makes what we do each moment count, even when we can’t see an immediate effect.

For me, playing music with Bill in The Storys duo has been a wonderful way to contribute these last 15 years. The music we play brings peaceful smiles, laughter, memories long forgotten. It brings healing tears and soothes aching hearts. And doing psychotherapy all these years has hopefully been a way I am giving to this world.

Sometimes when we feel the most vulnerable and lonely, we can’t imagine that we have something to gift to another. But I believe even then, if we are aware that we ourselves are a contribution, we can bring to other people something that makes their day brighter.

I’d really like to hear how you see yourself contributing to other people. I’ll include what you share (anonymously) in a future column. Your examples will be a way to contribute!

Nancy Norman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, musician with The Storys and former “Intimacy” columnist for The Wichita Eagle. E-mail her at

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