Generosity is the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly.
Generosity is paradoxical. Those who give, receive back in return. It is a win-win.
By spending ourselves for others’ well-being, we enhance our own standing. In letting go of some of what we own, we better secure our own lives.
By giving ourselves away, we too move forward flourishing.
This is not just philosophical or religious teaching; it is a sociological fact.
The generosity paradox can also be stated in the opposite. By hanging onto what we currently have, we lose out on better things that we might have gained.
In holding onto what we possess, we diminish its long-term value to us. By failing to care for others, we do not properly take care of ourselves.
The thing I find very interesting about generosity is that all through human history, the wise observers have taught variations of the generosity paradox.
An ancient proverb teaches: “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, yet ends up impoverished.”
The Buddha teaches: “Giving brings happiness at every stage of its expression”
A Hindu proverb teaches: “They who give, have all things. They who withhold, have nothing.”
Jesus Christ teaches: “Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.”
Even with knowledge of all the above, generosity hasn't come to me naturally. A part of me has always been the seeker of proof.
Interestingly, I have always had proof but it took me some time to connect the dots.
My mother is the most successful person I know. She is also the most generous person I know.
I have often wondered whether her giving spirit is something she was born with, or something learned.
My conclusion is that it's more of the latter and the more I believed this, the more I too started to model her ways.
Generosity is a learned character trait that involves having an attitude predisposed to giving and actually practicing giving liberally.
Most people today aren’t necessarily shaped by the sayings of wise people from thousands of years ago. They seek empirical evidence from social-scientific research.
Smith and Davidson in their well written, researched and easy to read book, The Paradox of Generosity, sought to provide this evidence.
Their findings are fascinating and confirm what we have known all along. The very same things that the philosophers, wise writers, and religious teachers have been teaching.
They looked at the 5 standard measures of well-being:
- Bodily health
- Purpose and living
- Avoidance of depression
- Interest and personal growth,
and found that there was a significant positive correlation between all of the above and giving.
They also found that there was a causal relationship i.e. as a result of general practices of generosity, people who lived life generously also tend to enjoy well-being in life.
The more generous people are the more happiness, health, and purpose in life they enjoy.
This causal relationship goes both ways too, with generosity enhancing wellbeing, and wellbeing enhancing generosity.
Money cannot buy you happiness as people rightly say. However, money and happiness are still related in a curious way.
Happiness can result from not spending money on yourself, but rather giving it away to others.
Generous financial givers are happier people, and so whilst money cannot buy you happiness, giving it away actually associates with greater happiness.
Generosity cannot be faked in order to achieve some other, more valued, self-serving end.
It must be desired and the good of other people must be what we want.
Generosity involves giving to others the things that are beneficial to them, rather than just anything in abundance. It always intends to enhance the true wellbeing of those to whom we are giving.
In my personal life, I can certainly say that I experience tremendous joy when I am giving wholeheartedly.
I remember when I started volunteering at City, University of London as a professional mentor, first I couldn't believe anyone would sit and listen to me and my guidance.
Secondly, I longed to volunteer. I’d give up my lunch breaks at work in order to sit with a stranger and talk about their life journey.
7 years on, I have made many friends, learned alot from my mentees and continue to sow seeds into this process.
Although it has taken me quite a while and I still remain challenged by it, generosity now comes more naturally and remains an active journey.
It's the purest form of joy that I experience, especially when it's generosity done quietly and unexpectedly.
The smile I walk away with is absolutely priceless. For in that private moment, I feel like I am fulfilling my true calling. I am showing love to another completely selflessly.
How Do People Give?
There are various ways in which people give, some of which includes money, time, attention, emotional support etc.
Creating these blog posts, for example, is a big part of my journey towards living a more generous life.
Giving varies across countries and across continents of the world and with surprising results.
The Charities Aid Foundation carries out an annual World Giving Index and the global trends in giving. The results are based on 3 giving behaviours across various countries:
- Giving money
- Volunteering time
- Helping a stranger or someone who you didn’t know needed help
The results confound traditional views of the link between wealth and generosity, confirming what we know: that giving is about spirit and inner motivation, not about financial means.
Only 6 members of the G20 appear in the list of top 20 countries of the 2017 index below:
Myanmar remains at the top of the rankings interestingly because 80% to 90% of the people are practicing Buddhists.
The trends in giving are changing with Africa for example being the only continent to see an increase in all giving behaviours in 2017.
The G20 saw a decrease in all 3 giving behaviours over the last 5 years, but continue to play a key role in global giving. Below is a 5-year average:
To make this relevant to our daily lives, here are some further thoughts:
How can generosity help you as a leader?
Michael Hyatt in his Lead To Win Podcast identifies some striking benefits for leaders based on research:
- Stronger teams – Generosity helps you build a stronger team. Research suggests that it fuels workplace performance and engagement.
- Higher income – People who give at work have been shown to have higher levels of income for every $1 they give away compared to their miserly colleagues.
- Relationships – The strength of relationships with business partners, colleagues or potential customers is much stronger in an environment where giving is deliberate and not for personal gain. It also boosts loyalty as can be seen by the relationship that Apple customers have with Apple for example, due to their policy on product returns etc.
How can generosity help your personal life?
Below are some tips based on how generosity has been useful for my personal life:
- Better marriages – Giving enhances the quality of marriages and keeps couples closer. In fact, giving gifts is one of the 5 Love Languages and a sign to a spouse that they are appreciated and loved.
- Better life outlook – Having grown up in a generous home, I can certainly say that it has given me a more positive and inclusive look at life.
- Happiness and Joy – This by far has been the biggest impact of living a generous life for me. It is purpose driven and mostly leads to positive reciprocity down the line.
- Children and Society – Ultimately we want a society that is more generous than not. Practising giving with our children is a good way to contribute to that because they too will grow up givers.
To conclude, generosity matters a great deal, not just for us, but to society at large. If you've previously not practiced generosity in your life, it is never too late.
Start today and start behaving like a generous person does.
Right attitudes often do follow right actions. Spend some time with yourself, reflect upon and soak in the meaning and consequence. The rest will follow.