Being fiscally conservative may have its virtues in our culture of debt, but loosening our attachment to financial security by giving to others can also increase our impact and well-being (think gifts with benefits). According to recent studies, generosity promotes happiness, improves health, strengthens relationships, and can lead to material success.
I recently had an opportunity to test these findings. A close friend reached out to me in need of financial assistance for an emergency dental procedure. I told him that I would cover $250 of the $500 he needed for his co-pay, which felt reasonable and generous enough. Later that day, I opened a belated Christmas card from my uncle. The card contained a check for $300 with a note: “Go buy yourself some warm clothes…” What a kind, undeserved surprise!
Fortunately, I didn’t need warm clothes (or anything else), so I treated the gift as a well-timed bonus. In a spontaneous act of generosity, I decided to pass this $300 gift on to my friend, which was more than the $250 I had initially planned to give him. My friend was very appreciative, and other friends and family soon stepped in to add the remaining funds.
Seeing the momentum that spontaneous generosity seems to generate reinforced a few important lessons:
- A gift’s impact can be multiplied when the recipient passes the gift on to others. Initially, I received my uncle’s gesture of love, and my uncle got the satisfaction of helping his nephew buy new clothes. It didn’t stop there. I gave that $300 gift to my friend, helping him get the treatment he needed. Now my uncle, my friend, and I are all beneficiaries of my uncle’s gift. I asked my friend not to pay me back but to help someone else in need in the future. If my friend makes good on that promise, my uncle’s initial generosity will have a lasting effect on many people.
- The importance of generosity extends beyond material possessions. I am awakening to my talents, which include: an ability to build relationships and empathize with others; a knack for self-expression through writing; and a bent for reason and justice. I must have the courage to accept and nurture my gifts, and the humility to share them with my community in pursuit of a purpose that is greater than I am. As is true with money, when I share those gifts, the impact grows, transforms, and endures.
- I have a long way to go in becoming the generous person I aspire to be. In the above example, it would have been more generous to combine the $250 I had originally decided to give my friend with the $300 gift from my uncle for a total of $550 – which is more than what my friend needed. I realize that I cannot and should not give everything to everyone, but I must push myself beyond comfort and convenience. That’s how I will grow and self-actualize.
Like any skill, generosity takes hard work, refinement, and focus. The good news is that an open heart and mind will allow me to recognize when I have an opportunity to practice generosity. I am eager to share more of myself so that I can connect more deeply with the Universe, the earth, and the people I’m called to love.