By Gian Milles, MS, Integrity Counseling Services — It is the magnitude of our hearts that determines the height and depth of our joy. That sounds like a line coming from Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet,” but ideas and words that have captivated the hearts and minds of readers for a century now have scientific research to back them up.
The Notre Dame Science of Generosity Project defines generosity as “the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly.” Dr. Summer Allen, a researcher working with the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, has compiled numerous research papers studying the positive effects of generosity on givers — i.e., the people who carry out generous actions. She found that generosity is linked with better overall health, delayed mortality, greater quality of life, feelings of vitality and self-esteem, happiness, a reduction in the risk of burnout at work, higher levels of contentment in relationships, and longer-lasting romantic relationships.
If generosity has such measurable benefits, how do we do it? The Notre Dame Science of Generosity Project states that generosity can involve giving “money, possessions, time, attention, aid, encouragement, emotional availability, and more.” Let’s get practical. How can I be more generous with my money, possessions, time, attention, aid, encouragement, and emotional availability?
Money: How much do I tithe? Would it be appropriate for me to prayerfully consider giving more of my money away? How much? To whom? Do I ever see the faces of the people to whom I tithe? Certainly, it is a virtue to give to charity, but sometimes tithing can be a way to avoid being generous in other ways. I know people who are willing to write a check for charity, but who won’t give a Saturday afternoon to a charitable cause because they need to be working. Giving our time can be much more difficult and uncomfortable than giving our money. How can I give more time to my spouse? My elderly parents or grandparents? My children? My siblings? Which of these relationships needs more tender loving care? Giving of our time flows into giving attention, aid, encouragement, and emotional availability. We can spend time with our spouse or children, but if our eyes are glued to the television or our smartphone the whole time, we are not giving the best of ourselves. How can we be generous with our attention, encouragement, and emotional availability? What prevents us from being kind, non-judgmental, accepting, and freely giving of our hearts to our loved ones? What fears, wounds, and insecurities create walls that limit our ability to extend ourselves emotionally and mentally to others? The work has only just begun.
As you can see, generosity is much more than writing a check (of course, writing checks to charitable organizations is necessary for good Christian living). As we dig deeper, we find the roadmap for how we can take steps toward being challenged and transformed into the person God is calling us to be. All the while becoming happier and doing more good deeds for others. Generosity involves saying yes to discomfort, but ancient wisdom and modern science alike concur that generosity makes us happier and healthier in the long-term. I encourage you to think of how you can do something generous today.