Welcome to this glorious Saturday, December 26, 2020! Today is a rare and precious day that will never come again.
I can’t think of a more opportune time to speak to the importance of Generosity. Tis the season of gift-giving after-all. I also believe that generosity is crucial during this time of COVID. To protect the health and well-being of ourselves and our beloved citizens, we have been asked to physically distance. Unfortunately, when we isolate, we tend to spend more time in our head. While this personal alone time can be used for reflection, to develop insight and to grow personally, most of us have a strong tendency to focus more on the negative and to ruminate on what is missing in our life. These destructive thought patterns lead to sadness, discontent, unhappiness, anger and can even propagate depression. Generosity is an antidote to these destructive states of mind and being.
When I think about generosity, I find that it’s no wonder that every religion I know about emphasizes the importance of giving. For instance, Generosity is highlighted all throughout the Bible. Ramadan is a holy month where Muslims abstain from eating. This fast reflects on their religious devotion and is a time for personal growth. It is also a month of giving. For instance, through intentional fasting, wealthier Muslims make more food available to the poor. The Buddhists have what are called the six Paramitas, or six perfections. These six perfections are designed to help one transcend egocentric thinking. The first of these six perfections is Generosity.
Science has also documented the benefits of Generosity. Long-term studies demonstrate that giving of oneself leads to a reduction in stress, improves overall health, increases lifespan, and fights depression.
While I’m grateful for these religious and scientific reminders, I don’t feel like we need religion and science to inform us about the importance of giving. All we need to do is give and to notice how we feel afterwards. It feels good to give. One reason that it feels good is because we are not thinking about ourselves. As mentioned earlier, the more time we spend alone in our head, the more we tend to focus primarily on what’s wrong and what we’re missing – which is usually nothing, our mind just tries to convince us otherwise.
When we spend our time thinking about how to improve the life of another, we are not thinking self-centeredly. And the paradox is: when we turn our attention towards others, we benefit.
I’ve heard some people criticize altruism because we can’t give without benefiting from it. Does this mean that if we are helping someone because we know that we will benefit from it that we are being selfish? Probably. So there is an aspect of selfishness involved. But are we going to say, “I don’t want to be selfish, so I’m not going to give”? To me, this sounds silly. In this situation, no one benefits. Love yourself enough to be selfish and give to others. It’s OK to benefit from giving. Though our intentions matter, we don’t have to philosophically dissect everything we do. Just give. Be Generous. But be thoughtful about how or what you give.
With this holiday season in particular, there is an emphasis on giving people things, or money. While this is fine and there is nothing inherently wrong with it, we don’t have to present lavish gifts to friends and loved ones for it to be meaningful and for us and them to benefit. In fact, it’s been my experience that some of the extravagant gifts that I’ve given, and received, added to my sense of loneliness, isolation and reinforced deep-seeded insecurities. The simple gifts are what seemed to make the difference in both receiving and giving.
Generosity from a sense of obligation is one thing and giving from the desire to improve the life of another is something entirely different. The more sensitive we are to the needs of another, the more we can be of benefit. A check for a hundred dollars given to a multi-gazillionaire will do little for them whereas to a homeless person, just about any monetary gift is appreciated. Alternatively, offering a piece of art that you personally painted may bring about gratitude and a heartfelt smile to your gazillionaire uncle and a look of bewilderment to the face of one who is homeless.
We don’t have to buy things to give. The gift of our time will likely bring about more benefit for all involved. When we volunteer, whether it be for natural areas, wildlife, or for groups of people, we cultivate community and develop a deeper appreciating of our shared place within it. Understanding our place within the community is the essence of freeing ourselves from self-centeredness. Giving really is about improving relationships and building community. There are also simpler ways to give.
A smile is a gift. Opening the door for another is a gift. Letting someone merge into your lane in front of you is an act of Generosity. So is saying thank you – this is important! And without a doubt, I believe the greatest gift that we can ever give anyone is our attention. It costs nothing and you’re already there. Be the present.
You are loved by me, Unconditionally.
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