The Dalai Lama famously said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” The same rings true for generosity!
Studies have shown that the person who benefits most from generosity is the person who is giving it out.
Like a healthy diet (cookie dough included), exercise, and good genes, generosity may increase your life span. A 2003 research study at the University of Michigan reveals that the positive effects of generosity include improving one’s mental and physical health and promoting longevity. Generosity can help reduce stress, support one’s physical health and enhance one’s sense of purpose.
So what is it about generosity that makes it so critical to a happy and healthy life? First, it’s important to acknowledge that the form of generosity that most benefits us isn’t measured in a dollar amount or a physical gain. What matters is the sensitivity we offer another person. The more directly we see our personal efforts impact someone else, the more we benefit from the experience of giving.
The second direct benefit we gain from giving is that generosity inadvertently shifts our focus off of ourselves. While it’s important to maintain a healthy level of self-awareness and sensitivity to oneself, often the focus we put on ourselves can be negative. Many of our thoughts about ourselves are filled with criticism, stress, doubt, uncertainty and obsession, none of which do any good for our level of confidence and success.
Generosity is a natural confidence builder. Not only does it make us feel better about ourselves, but it actively fights feelings of isolation and depression. People who battle depression have been shown to benefit from volunteering, as it gives them a sense of value and purpose while placing them in a social environment.
In being generous, the sensitivity that we feel toward another person allows us to be more sensitive to ourselves. A study of children found that when kids were offered praise without doing anything to warrant it, their self-esteem was unaffected. Conversely, when kids were praised for actual acts, such as generosity, their self-esteem was enhanced. The same principle holds true for all of us. Being built up with compliments has little effect on our self-worth, whereas the gratification of being generous enhances our sense of self. When we are in a giving state, we are more relaxed, attuned, and living in the moment. This state of being is contagious; people who are generous often create a snowball effect in others who in turn want to pay it forward.
As the holiday seasons approaches, most of us naturally begin to accelerate and kick into action, throwing ourselves into end-of-the-year activities and planning New Year resolutions. If there is anything that you are going to take away from this conversation, let it be that gratitude should always be an important part of the equation. Show your appreciation for the generosity that is directed toward you. When you receive that delicious box of cookie dough, 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 means to you. Life presents us with hundreds of opportunities to be generous; by making a lifestyle out of generosity, we can do ourselves and others around us a world of good.