How Generous are You?
Take a moment and reflect: Where in your life do you feel generous? Where in your life could you be more giving?
We all know the feeling of excitement around giving someone we love a truly special gift. We get excited when we plan what to give someone, when we purchase or make the item, during the actual gift giving, and when we recall the generosity.
So if that feels so good, how can we bring this feeling into our daily lives?
What about Generosity Makes Us Happy?
The happiest people are also the most generous. Researchers at the University of Notre Dame define generosity as:
The virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly. Generosity also involves giving to others not simply anything in abundance but rather giving those things that are good for others. Generosity always intends to enhance the true well being of those to whom it gives.
When we intend to promote the well-being of others, we are simultaneously promoting our own well-being.
Researchers have found that generosity actually causes neurochemical changes in the brain that makes us happier. As we feel more joyous, we give more freely, and the cycle of generosity and happiness continues.
Modern science is now backing what the Buddha taught thousands of years ago.
When the Buddha was alive, his first teaching to new students was that of generosity. In Pali, the language spoken during the Buddha’s time, it is called dāna. As Sharon Salzburg wrote, “The cultivation of generosity is the beginning of spiritual awakening.”
After generosity was cultivated, the Buddha taught sila, which is virtuous living through speech, action, and livelihood. It is only after one has integrated both dāna and sila that one is ready for meditation. In the west, our dāna and sila practices are immaturely developed, and we skip straight to meditation. This is not necessarily bad, but if we feel we are slow to progress or gain insight, reflecting upon our generosity and rightful living may be needed.
Intention is Everything
I recently listened to an Against the Stream podcast on generosity.
A quote from the Buddha was shared, ““If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.” The power of generosity is so great, and food is such an essential part of life. The sharing of food with friends, neighbors, and strangers earns merit.
We have several opportunities every day! Even the smallest gesture of offering the crumbs from your plate to the littlest creatures is an act of generosity. The Buddha taught, “Even if a person throws the rinsings of a bowl or a cup into a village pool or pond, thinking, ‘May whatever animals live here feed on this,’ that would be a source of merit.”
It is the intention behind the act that sustains the happiness of generosity.
Tossing the compost into the pile may feed the same little creatures; however, if our intention is to make compost, then it may not be a full act of generosity but rather a consequence of our action.
Similarly, when we donate our old clothes to a thrift store or mission, it is an act of giving, and our intention is good; however, the act is not as genuine as we are giving things we do not want. When we give away something that is more dear to us, the feeling is one of liberation and well-being.
This is also true when we buy a gift for a friend that is something we would rather keep for ourselves.
The Buddha said:
Generosity brings happiness at every stage of its expression. We experience joy in forming the intention to be generous. We experience joy in the actual act of giving something. And we experience joy in remembering the fact that we have given.
Even small acts earn us merit. There are so many ways we can be more generous in our lives. We can be more generous with our time, with our love, with our possessions, with our thoughts, with our smiles, with ourselves.