Life is a gift to treasure.

Being alive is a gift in itself. I think many of us know that to some extent. We sometimes hear and share sentences like, ‘We only live once’ or ‘Life is too short’, but are we really aware of how precious this gift actually is? Do we truly honor such privilege with the gratitude and respect it deserves? Or have we gotten so good at filling up our time with so many distractions that we have developed a propensity of taking life for granted?

I may be wrong, yet my feeling is that it usually takes a tragedy – an accident, a disease, a loss – to remember we should celebrate every second of our existence. This doesn’t mean we should live negligently or inconsiderately by indulging into destructive habits or behaviors. Quite on the contrary, I believe the awareness of our own mortality should push us to live mindfully. In short, I embrace what Adrienne Maree Brown – American author and women’s right activist – writes in Emergent Strategy:

“My life is a miracle that cannot be recreated. I can never get these hours, weeks, years back. (…) I am a cell-sized unit of the human organism and I have to use my life to leverage a shift in the system by how I am, as much as with the things that I do. This means actually being in my life, and it means bringing my values into my daily decision making. Each day should be lived on purpose.”

anne maree brown

How is that relevant to sustainability?

According to David Attenborough – English broadcaster and natural historian – in his latest documentary A Life on Our Planet:

“The way we humans live on earth now is sending biodiversity into a decline. And anything that we can’t do forever is by definition, unsustainable.”

david attenborough

The way we think, relate, behave, inevitably impacts our environment. Everything is interconnected and interdependent, remember? Truth is, while nature can and will succeed without the human race; the other way around does not hold.

Grace Lee Boggs – American writer, social activist, philosopher and feminist – says: “Transform yourself to transform the world.”

I’ve crossed paths with many people who retain that change can only happen top-down. While I can empathize with disillusionment or skepticism before the magnitude and complexity of the problems we are currently facing as a society; discrediting individual efforts – no matter how small they may be – sounds pointless and regressive to me. Is that a defense mechanism? An excuse to move away from uncomfortable responsibilities? I wonder.

Instead, I endorse Adrienne Maree Brown’s view that “What we practice at the small scale sets the pattern for the whole system.”

While this certainly is a way to feel in control of things and rather hopeful about the future of our planet, my question is: who can it hurt to try and be the best versions of ourselves? Pause for a second, and imagine what the world would look like if each of us could feel and say:

“I am living a life I don’t regret,
A life that will resonate with my ancestors,
And with as many generations forward as I can imagine.
I am attending to the crises of my time with my best self.
I am of communities that are doing our collective best to honor our ancestors and all humans to come.”

Adrienne Maree Brown, Emergent Strategy

This doesn’t mean that change only takes place from the bottom-up. Change needs to happen on all sides. Nonetheless, if we all do our part as individuals and support each other in our endeavors, it becomes a collective effort.

Shifting towards a gift culture or a gift economy?

Can we move away from competitive behaviors?
Can we change the ways in which we measure success, worthiness?

Lately, I’ve noticed more and more people shifting towards a gift culture, also known as a gift economy. This refers to an economy based on the offerings of goods and services out of pure altruism, or in exchange for gifts that aren’t necessarily money-related. A few great examples of this include: Frédéric Laloux – Belgian coach and author of the book Reinventing Organizations – who chose to share his knowledge in exchange for “what feels right” or Workaway – a site for cultural exchange – which allows to offer your skills while traveling in exchange for food and accommodation (I’ve tried this and absolutely loved the experience).

A gift economy doesn’t mean what we put out there in the world is “for free”. It’s about reframing our value systems and the sources of our motivation.

When it comes to sustainability, the frequent perception is that ‘it’s not worth the effort’ because there are no actual rewards for our ‘good actions’.

Is that true or is it because we associate ‘rewards’ with ‘money’? What about love, harmony, respect, community, growth? Aren’t these rewards that come as a result of trying to be good human beings?

Journaling questions

  1. Think of times in which you measured your worth in terms of money. What did this look like?
  2. Can you think of gifts you possess and could share with the world?
  3. What gifts would you happily receive in return other than money?
  4. Imagine shifting towards a gift culture and economy. What concerns arise? What rewards could come with that?

Bi-weekly exercise

  1. Start a gratitude journal for a week. Try to focus on the gifts rather than the let downs. Does this influence your mood at all?
  2. Each time you catch yourself comparing, competing or minimizing someone else, try to tap into your curiosity instead and offer them your support. Even simply with your thoughts. How does this make you feel?


  • Julia
    January 27, 2021 at 4:54 pm

    Thank you for bringing up the gift economy as an alternative to traditional ways of living, and redefine “value” or “worth”. There’s a fascinating history, going back to many indigenous cultures, to modern technologies today, that can give us inspiration, so I hope this article is just the beginning of the exploration.

  • Martino
    January 28, 2021 at 3:21 pm

    Great article. I like the idea of measuring “success” with other metrics than money.
    I too have experienced Workaway and found it an amazing way of traveling and exchanging!

    • Giulia
      January 29, 2021 at 6:35 pm

      Inspiring words…thanks!

  • Alessandra
    January 29, 2021 at 6:10 pm

    I loved this article .
    It shows how many different way to face the life we have.
    I will for sure try the exercises mentioned above.

  • Giulia
    January 29, 2021 at 6:30 pm

    Inspiring words, thanks!

  • Gianni
    January 30, 2021 at 6:41 pm

    Nice article!

  • Loraine
    January 30, 2021 at 10:21 pm

    Loved this article! And the exercises listed will be things I’m going to set as intentions for this new year!


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