Just one month after her wedding day, Cami Walker was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an incurable neurological condition. The life she loved was gone—her symptoms became unbearable and she lost the use of her hands, the vision in one eye and eventually the ability to walk. She was spiraling into a deep depression and an addiction to pain medication. In need of a friend, Walker called her old neighbor, a spiritual teacher named Mbali.
"I called her thinking I would have a little pity party," Walker says. "Instead, she told me, 'Stop thinking about yourself.'" She gave Walker a prescription: Give something away every day for 29 days.
Walker was skeptical at first, but when a new series of medical treatments failed to help her symptoms, she decided to take Mbali's advice.
For one month, Walker focused her energy on simple acts of kindness, like calling a friend going through a tough time or handing a flower to a stranger on the street. Though the gifts weren't always extravagant and often didn't cost a dime, Walker says the meaning behind her gifts created a shift in her life. "Our thinking has a lot of power, but I think it goes a little deeper," she says. "There is definitely a spiritual element."
As the days went on, her altruism began to have a life-changing impact on her physical and mental health. "By day 14 I was able to walk," she says. "By day 29 I was working part time again." Although the giving cycle couldn't cure her MS, Walker says she regained the ability to live her life.
Since finishing her 29 days, Walker has continued to find ways to give daily and has created a global movement on 29Gifts.org. She is still feeling the positive effects. "I've had three MRIs showing no new damage. That's a really good sign," she says.
How to Start Your Own Month of Giving This holiday season, why not embrace the spirit of giving with your own 29 days of kindness? Remember, gifts do not need to be material. "You can just sit and listen to someone, for example," Walker says. "The most important thing is that the gift is offered. Find an opportunity with open heart and don't expect anything in return." To get you started, here are a few of Walker's favorite gifts:
Make dinner for your significant other.
Make a point of calling a friend just to talk.
Hand out flowers on the street to make someone's day.
Give an unexpected tip. Walker gave a tip to a group of kids performing a break-dancing routine on the street.
Help a stranger in need. While out one morning on a hot day, Walker noticed two men sitting by a building. They looked thirsty so she brought them each an iced tea. "It was really a moving experience to connect with total strangers," she says.
Instead of planning out your month of giving, Walker says to go through each day looking for opportunities to present themselves—and if you miss a day, don't beat yourself up over it. "It's not about being a perfectionist," she says.