gen·er·ous (adj.): showing a readiness to give more of something, such as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected.
Generosity is a virtue, a beautiful quality, an endearing characteristic. Most people think of money when they hear the word – and then feel inadequate when their financial position doesn’t enable them to be as big-hearted as they would like. But the thing is, as we unpack the idea of generosity, we can see that it is a state of mind, a way of being.
One of my all-time favourite writers David Whyte expresses giving and generosity by saying that it’s something like “paying attention… a way of acknowledging and giving thanks for lives other than our own” (Whyte, 2014).
Let’s think about being generous with time. If you look at your lifestyle, do you find yourself rushing from point A to point B, feeling flustered, not really giving anything your full attention because you’re thinking about where you need to be next? How can you be generous with the people in your life when there is not enough time to be present with them, giving them the full amount of yourself? Maybe part of the answer lies in saying no to a few things and prioritising your time and energy, thereby fostering a spirit of generosity in the things you really care about. The people you are close to will feel loved and held, knowing that you are generous in your care and focus on them.
Another idea to consider is being generous with other qualities, for example, forgiveness or love. Being generous with these things costs nothing but can have an immeasurable impact on your relationships and interactions with others. You can manifest an open, unselfish spirit, and be generous and thoughtful about the way you engage your family and friends. This means being a good friend, partner, and family member, being proactive when there are difficulties, and expressing a warm and loving character which works as a balm to smooth over the rough patches.
But before we can be generous with others, we need to be generous to ourselves. That doesn’t mean a double scoop of ice-cream for dessert! We need to practice generosity with our failings and be kind to ourselves when we feel that we have let ourselves down or disappointed others. Generosity directed to self can mean taking good care of ourselves – looking after our physical health, taking time to reflect on and investigate our emotional and intellectual states, and seeking help when it is required.
Take some time to think about how generosity impacts yourself and others. Notice how you feel the next time someone is generous toward you. And notice how good it makes you feel when a spirit of generosity is part of the foundation of how you live your life and act toward others. An extra 5 minutes for someone who needs them. An extra hug. An extra couple of minutes for yourself before you start your day. Daily activities like preparing meals and giving self-care. The generosity of emotions like happiness, joy and contentment. That for me is the heart of giving.
Giving is not simply a practice for the wealthy; it is a practice in which anyone can engage. Giving is closely linked to our freedom and is a fundamental dimension of being human, a possibility we all share. We can only give to the extent that we are truly free, that is, not possessed by our possessions, or our money, or ourselves (Wright, 2011).
Whyte, D (2014). Consolations – The Solace, Nourishment & Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, Many Rivers Press, Washington.
Wright, D. S (2011). The Six Perfections – Buddhism & The Cultivation of Character, Oxford University Press, New York.