I suppose it takes one to know one, but I admit giving my money away does not come easy to me. It never seems to occur to me to buy an unplanned gift for someone to mark a special occasion. Some of us are a bit stingy and penny-pinching whereas others seem to be naturally generous. Maybe you differ from others in the extent you give to people begging in the street or in whether you make out monthly direct-debits to deserving causes. So if you are a bit like me just how do you learn to become more generous?
How generous are you?
The first step I’ve discovered is to privately acknowledge the deficiency of spontaneous generosity of spirit in myself. I don’t just mean donating money. The definition of generosity is broader. It can be defined as the desire to make others’ lives easier or more pleasant. Mowing next door neighbour’s lawn when he or she is ill. Offering to look after someone’s pets when they are away on holiday.
This leads to considering the way we do what we already are doing – whether it is domestic chores, visiting relatives, working at the office or factory floor. Some might view such activity as a time-filling grind whereas others may see it as useful service. For you is it boring toil or an opportunity to be constructively helpful?
Considering the benefits of being generous
Do you assume you have no power to positively affect the world around you? Yet even a small act of kindness like waiting to hold a door open may mean a lot for someone who is elderly or disabled. Arguably, a degree of self-absorption hinders us from noticing what others need. If so we could look for the potential benefits we can create. What the results might be if one performed allotted tasks in more of a spirit of generosity.
Thinking about self-sacrifice if generous
Giving can feel more like a hardship than an opportunity. Yet spiritual teachers say that giving doesn’t really entail sacrifice because you get more back than you put in e.g. a sense of usefulness, an uplift in mood, receiving thanks and appreciation.
Questioning one’s motivation to be generous
Sometimes people behave generously for self-centred reasons. However just because some people behave hypocritically does not mean everybody does. Psychological research shows that humans do sometimes genuinely want to help for the sake of others. So, why not challenge the cynical view that people always help others in order to feel good about themselves.
Being more focused
You might write down two things you can give or do for three people you know. This entails thinking about genuine needs you are capable of meeting within your own means and time constraints and where you are not taking away from someone their responsibility to help themselves. For example I would suggest you think carefully before handing over money to someone you know. Being too generous might cause future difficulty in the relationship. If the person is asking you for money you might question what the cash is really for. An obvious example is money that is likely to be wasted on frivolous things. Consider not only the intention about paying you back but how realistic he or she is about getting into a position to do so. Generosity is no use unless it is wise generosity.
Also I would like to add something about not forcing yourself into being generous. You could still be sensitive to and act on any kind impulses you have, albeit fleeting ones.
Working on your blocks
One block to watch out for I think is a grudging feeling when doing something helpful. It is all too easy for any weak inclination to help to be hindered by a penny pinching desire to get things for ourselves or by irritation with the other person who needs help. Buddhists talk about attachment to one’s material possessions which can only result in unhappiness.
Not depending on a generous nature
Religious people feel self-reliance isn’t powerful enough. This would mean not depending on your own strength to change yourself. The alternative is to seek help from whatever you believe to be the spiritual source of love. For many Christians this will be what they see as the divine human face of God. For others it will be some higher power greater than one’s own limitations.
Noticing the results of being generous
As you start to give more of yourself to people, you will probably find that others are doing more things for you. What goes around, comes around. Others may start to see you as a better person.
The spiritual philosopher, Emanuel Swedenborg, suggests that after death, if not in this life, we will be gifted with wisdom and joy. But this only happens if during life in the world one tries to live according to one’s spiritual beliefs and exercise a charitable attitude to others.
“Give to others, and God will give to you.” (Luke 6:38)
Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems