Sunday, May 14, 2017

What Would You Give for Your Well-Being?

What have you lost by giving? Money? Goods? Experiences? Your savings? Your time? Other resources? Are you suffering a deficit because of your generosity? 

So why is generosity a good thing? Why give if we lose? Doesn't seem very practical, does it?
Yet we give. And most of us want to be generous. It is a positive characteristic, to be a giver.

Generosity is a paradox. While it is true that we "lose" that which we give, in return for giving we receive! The Paradox of Generosity, Giving we receive, grasping we lose by Christian Smith & Hilary Davidson is written from their academic study of generosity. The book is quite readable, will all the technical research stuff in the back of the book. And it has interesting insights.

To measure well-being they looked at happiness, bodily health, purpose in living, avoidance of depression, and interest in personal growth. People without these are not flourishing. Their study looked at practices of generosity, not single generous acts, repeated behaviors that involve recurrent intention and attention. So, basically, a generous person is happier, healthier, lives purposefully, avoids depression, and ins interested in their personal growth.

Sounds like what we'd all like to be. The authors demonstrate in their research that generosity and well-being correlate significantly between the two. They present empirical evidence that American's generous practices are strongly associated with grater well-being of the generous givers.

What about a causal relationship? Which causes which? The arrow points in both directions. Greater well-being often facilitates generosity. And at the same time, generosity also enhances the well-being of the giver. 

America has been call "the most generous nation." But what is the truth of the matter? The authors report that the truth is that the results are mixed. Many Americans are quite generous in various ways and they are more likely to enjoy the benefits of generous practices. While on the other hand many other Americans live fairly ungenerous lives. They are less likely to voluntarily give money to valued organization and causes. They don't volunteer their time and labor to others. They don't extend themselves much in relationships with family, friends, and neighbors. And these less generous people are less likely to have the benefits of generous practices.

So, what do Smith &Davidson mean by "generosity"? For the purpose of their research they mean "the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly."  It is conceived as a learned character trait involving both attitudes and actions. It requires both a disposition to give liberally and active practice of giving liberally. You have to want to be generous and to act generous, to actually give to others in some way.

It isn't just giving anything from you abundance but giving those things that are beneficial to others. A generous heart will share what they have that would benefit another. It is important that we consider how our "gift" benefits the other. How often do we donate our no longer needed clothing without considering how it will benefit another? We do it more to get rid of stuff than to really consider the needs of others beyond our left-overs. 

There are many ways to be generous. We can give our time to work without pay [volunteering]; we can give money to the causes we believe in; we can express generosity to family, neighbors, friends; we can give blood, become an organ donor, loan possessions, include estate giving in our wills. Sometimes giving time to just listen when someone needs a sympathetic ear can be a very generous act. Random acts of kindness are generous practices.

"Giving we receive, grasping we lose." Learn more about the benefits of generosity in The Paradox of Generosity by Christian Smith & Hilary Davidson. And increase your own well-being while you give to benefit others.

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