What is Generosity?
When we are generous, we give. We give freely and joyfully, not begrudgingly. We give or our time, money, affection, skills, and assistance to others. We give more than is expected or required. If we are truly generous, we give without expecting anything in return. True generosity is not barter.
There is a continuum from greedy to self-centered to generous. Greed and self-centeredness are hindrances to generosity. They arise out of a sense of lack. Yet what self-centered and greedy people most lack is a sense of connectedness to a loving community brought about in part by the practice of generosity. Generosity is thus an antidote to greed and self-centeredness.
Benefits of Generosity
You might say generosity is a selfish act, because generosity feels good. Generosity makes us happy. In giving, we receive the most. Generous people are actually happier, healthier, and less depressed than self-centered or greedy people.It seems it is encoded in our DNA to be generous, likely because a community of generous people has a better chance of surving and thriving than a community of greedy people. Because of our interdependence, when we give to others, we ultimately also give to ourselves.
A giving mind and heart enhances the vitality of our connections with others and brings joy to our hearts. True to the law of karma, putting good out into the world through the practice of generosity and other love practices comes back to us, often several-fold and in unforeseen ways.
Generosity is not a single act. We need to make generosity a life practice to experience its benefits. So what do we practice?
- Cultivate Contentment. People are self-centered, stingy, or greedy because they fear that if they give of their time, talent, or treasure, that they will lose something they need to be happy. To be generous, we need to start with contentment. When we wake up and see that “more” does not bring happiness, we can begin to let go of our fear and insecurity that giving will somehow leave us deprived.
- Cultivate Gratitude. It’s harder to be generous if we are feeling negative. Cultivate your positivity through the practice of intentionally appreciating all that is good in your life every day. Your gratitude will help to inspire your generosity.
- Abstain from Self-Preoccupation. If we look closely at our self-preoccupation, we see that it arises out of an unconscious belief that if we focus on ourselves—our needs, our wants, our issues, our concerns—that this will somehow enhance our lives. There is certainly some truth this. We do have to look after our own well-being. Yet compulsive self-preoccupation to the exclusion of others actually harms us, as it cuts us off from the life-sustaining web of life of which we are a part. It fosters alienation, which fosters emptiness. Intentionally practice reflecting upon the people in your life. You might make a list of your family and friends. Then, review it daily. Send out a loving thought to each person on your list. If someone is in distress or in need, reach out.
- Give to Yourself. Give yourself time to love and play. Eat healthy, sleep, exercise, and relax. Remember that you are no good to others if you are no good. Be generous with yourself, caring for yourself as if you were your own child. The world needs you to be healthy and vital. Take care not to cross over into greed and self-preoccupation as you practice your loving self-care.
- Give to Others. Countless opportunities for giving come up every day. Make is a point to give to at least one person every day. Look for opportunities to give of your time, talents, and treasure. Is there a friend or family member who could use your help with something? Maybe you could babysit for a friend so they can have a date night. Offer to give a friend or family member your time for a day. Is there an organization you can serve as a volunteer? Could a coworker use your assistance? Schedule at least an hour a week of your time helping someone with something. You might take your neighbor’s trash can back in from the street, or help someone at home with their chores. One good practice is to regularly call your friends to check in on them, see how they are doing, and ask if there is anything you can do to help them. If you have certain skills, who could you share them with? Some people make a practice of paying for other people’s groceries or paying for the car behind them in the drive through. Be generous in showing appreciation, giving compliments, and affirming others. Make it a lifelong practice to give your full attention to others, seeking through inquiry to fully understand. Giving our understanding and compassion to others is perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give. Sometimes our understanding is all we can give, along with a genuine desire for someone’s suffering to ease. Simply being present with someone in their distress is profoundly generous and helpful.
In practicing generosity, take care to do so skillfully. You do not want to give in a way that fosters dependency, promotes illness, enables, relieves others of accountability, or in other ways harms the recipient. For example, do not give money to the homeless, for it will likely go for drugs or alcohol. Instead, offer to buy a homeless person a meal or help with the purchase of toiletry items. This is where wisdom comes into play in the effective practice of generosity.
Take care not to make generosity an ego issue. Be mindful of the narcissistic vulnerability to feel we are special because we are so generous. Like all the love practices, we practice generosity because of the inherent happiness it brings, not to make ourselves special. We are already abundantly special through the simple fact of our existence.
Generosity begets joy. Make generosity one of your daily, intentional love practices. You and everyone around you will benefit.
Smith, Christian, Davidson, Hillary. The Paradox of Generosity. Oxford University Press, NY, NY. 2014.
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