Be Generous - It's Good For You!
The Dalai Lama famously said, "If you want others to be happy,
practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." The
same is certainly true for generosity! Generosity -- the quality of
being kind and understanding, the willingness to give others things that
have value -- is often defined as an act of selflessness; however, studies are now showing that generosity is actually (selfishly) in your best interest. Practicing generosity is a mental health principle, and it could be the very key to a happy and healthy life.
after year, more and more studies are highlighting the benefits of
generosity on both our physical and mental health. Not only does
generosity reduce stress, support one's physical health, enhance one's sense of purpose, and naturally fight depression, it is also shown to increase one's lifespan.
a longer, less stressful and more meaningful life is not enough to
inspire you to rev up your practice of generosity, consider that
generosity also promotes a social connection and improves relationships. According to Jason Marsh and Jill Suttie of the Greater Good Science Center,
"When we give to others, we don't only make them feel closer to us; we
also feel closer to them." This is because being generous and kind
encourages us to perceive others in a more positive light and fosters a
sense of community, a feeling of interconnectedness.
Being generous also makes us feel better about ourselves.
Generosity is both a natural confidence builder and a natural repellant
of self-hatred. By focusing on what we are giving rather than on what
we are receiving, we create a more outward orientation toward the world,
which shifts our focus away from ourselves. While maintaining a healthy
level of self-awareness and sensitivity to oneself is important, too
often we narrow in on ourselves with a negative lens. We spend too much
time listening to the "critical inner voice"
in our heads, which scrutinizes our every move and nags at us with
negative thoughts towards ourselves and others. These negative thoughts
undermine our confidence and can lead to self-sabotage.
Being generous distracts us from the critical inner voice's barrage of
nasty thoughts and creates a strong argument against it as well. When we
see someone else benefiting from our kind actions, for instance, it is
hard for the inner voice to argue that we are worthless.
Four Steps to Fully Practicing Generosity
Give something that is sensitive to the other person.
is most effective when the gift you offer is sensitive. Think about
what the other person wants or needs. It's not always about material
things; it's about being giving of yourself. Sometimes just being
present and available to a loved one who is having a hard time is the
greatest gift you could possibly give.
is important to be open to the people who express appreciation toward
you. Generosity is a two-way street, allowing someone to express their
gratitude is an important aspect of generosity and part of what makes
you feel closer to them. As researchers
in the Department of Psychology at University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill have discovered, "The emotion of gratitude uniquely
functions to build a high-quality relationship between a grateful person
and the target of his or her gratitude, that is, the person who
performed a kind action." So it is important to not brush off a "thank
you" with comments like "Oh, it was nothing."
Accept the generosity of others.
people have a much easier time being giving than receiving. However, it
is important to let others do things for you. I call this the generosity of acceptance.
Being pseudo-independent or self-denying robs your loved ones of the
opportunity to feel the joy of giving. Accepting the generosity of
others may make you uncomfortable if you felt unlovable or unworthy in
your early life. Generosity is often an act of love, and, though it may
seem counterintuitive, many people respond negatively to being loved.
that gratitude is an important part of the equation. Show your
appreciation for the generosity that is directed toward you, even if you
feel shy or uncomfortable. Resist the temptation to say things like
"This is too much," or "You shouldn't have." Instead just say "Thank
you!" Or, better yet, let the person know what their generosity meant to
you. Generosity is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Each day life
presents us with hundreds of opportunities to be generous; by making a
lifestyle out of generosity, we can do ourselves and others a world of