Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

June 3, 2013

The Good Life: The Selfishness of Generosity

By Louise Gorenflo
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — Generosity is natural. Trees receive sun, rain, soil and air. They give shade, food, shelter and many other gifts. Children receive the gifts of nurturance and love from their parents and then give the same to their children. All life receives and gives.

Yet we worry about getting hurt or losing out, feeling anxious at the thought of looking silly or getting ripped off. And above all, we look for a payoff. Thus, for most of us, there's a continual push-pull between our natural generosity and wanting a bargain. That's why practicing generosity can be so boundary-expanding. Every time we make a genuine offering or even think a generous thought, especially when we can do it for its own sake without thought of reward, we strengthen our openness and connections with others.

We receive many benefits from our generosity. Researchers have found when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect.  Another study found that people who provided social support to others had lower blood pressure than participants who didn’t. People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44 percent lower likelihood of dying, and that volunteering was as nearly as beneficial to their health as quitting smoking!

Other studies find that those who help others report that they feel stronger and more energetic after helping others; many also reported feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth. Teens who volunteer are three times happier than those who lack such altruistic motivation. Generous behavior reduces adolescent depression and suicide risk.

So be really selfish and improve your own life by being generous. For a month, find a way to be generous every day. Try to give just a little past your edge. This does not mean that you go without or break your budget. You will find that the act of giving does, little by little, helps expand your ability to open your heart. If this practice works for you, do it another month. Make generosity a life practice.

Here is a short list of ways to be generous:

•Share your time, talents and skills with someone who would benefit from them.

•Be kind, listen deeply and just be fully present for another.

•Help calm others.

•Donate to your favorite charity.

•Give your unwanted households and clothes to a charity thrift store.

•Make baked goods for someone who would enjoy them.

•Give away books. 

Generosity arises from a sense of rightness strong enough to take you past your reluctance to give. The most generous people offer without thinking about it, much the same way nature offers itself to us.

May you find what I have reported interesting and something you can use in your life. I invite you to email me your reactions (lgorenflo@gmail.com).