The Art and Practice of Generosity — What Gifts Can You Offer To the World
Any act of generosity brings immense gifts not only to the recipient, but also to the giver. However, many people doubt their capacity to give — they either wait for some “better time” (when they will have more time, energy or money), or they cannot decide the best way to be generous. Regardless of one’s financial status, level of education, skillset or life circumstances, we all possess an immense potential for kindness and generosity. We only need to learn how to find the best way of expressing it. The following ideas and strategies can help you direct your journey along the path of generosity.
- Think about the innumerable gifts you have received from others. These gifts might have come in numerous forms — from the unconditional love of your parents to the selfless support of your teachers to a random act of kindness from a stranger. Acknowledge these gifts and, wherever possible, express your gratitude to all those people in your life who have been generous to you. Anything will do — from a simple “Thank You” to a small gift.
- Journal your progress on the path of generosity. We often give of our resources — time, money, skills, etc. — without much awareness about it. For this reason, many people do not realize that they are already givers. Keeping a journal can help you recognize the numerous small (and big) ways in which you are being generous to those around you. This practice will make you become a conscious giver and, in the process, you will also become more aware of not only the ways in which you have made a positive change in the life of others, but also of how rewarding these experiences are for you.
- Set a “generosity target”: try to help at least one person every day. The beauty of this practice is that, through small acts of kindness, you nurture the habit of generosity. Whether you give money to a person in need, or volunteered your time to teach an underprivileged child reading & math, or you help a colleague file his income tax return form — you have given a part of yourself, and you have eased someone’s burden. This is a deeply gratifying experience.
- Generosity visualization exercise. This exercise is most effective if done regularly, at the start of each day. You can integrate it in your morning meditation session. Close your eyes and imagine that you are giving/donating/helping someone throughout the day. The beneficiary can be anyone — members of your family, classmates, colleagues, or even strangers. The key is to try to be specific, and imagine some concrete acts of generosity. One challenging aspect of this exercise is to visualize even interactions with negative people, and remain determined to continue being generous. This exercise is known as “priming” and “positive mental imaging.”
- Practice concentric visualizations, from the nearest to the neediest. This is a simple yet tremendously powerful exercise which can be done anytime. Close your eyes and imagine yourself smiling at the person whom you love most. Visualize that this person is smiling back at you, and experience all the joy and happiness you receive from this interaction. In the next stage, visualize yourself offering a smile to a friend or an acquaintance, and imagine that person reciprocating to you with a smile. In the last stage, visualize exchanging a smile with a complete stranger who needs you help. Feel the feeling. Imagine the ways in which you could help that person.
- Utilize your talents and skills. Whether your strengths and inclinations are in the area of arts, sports, science or cooking, you can place those in service of others. Acknowledge your talents and skills, and use them to help those around you.
- Identify a cause you feel passionate about. It is easier to give if you feel a connection to the cause. You may be feeling passionate about the issues of social poverty and social justice, saving the environment, education, spirituality or sports. Once you have clarity about the issues that resonate with you, it will be easier to reach out to individuals and organizations from that domain, whom you can donate to or whom you can support through volunteering.
- Start the “helping-happiness loop”. Psychologists have found that the happier we feel, the more generous we are. However, research has also shown that when people are suffering, grieving or experiencing profound sadness, giving & helloing others significantly improve their mental and emotional state. Therefore, made a resolution that, next time you feel unhappy, you will find someone who needs help and you will help them. It does not matter how small or big your act of generosity will be — as long as you ease, at least a bit, their condition. By helping others, you will increase your own happiness. And by becoming more happy, you will be more inclined to give more.
- Practice gratitude. Acknowledge all the blessings in your life and develop the daily habit of being grateful for those blessings. By becoming aware of and grateful for all the precious things you have or experience in your life, you allow abundance to flow through you, and you become a more generous person.
- Create a helping-happiness network. Just as there is a help- ing-happiness loop that operates in the individual, there is a contagious sort of helping-happiness loop that operates through networks of people. We all have the capacity to be helpful to needy people. Once you identify an individual or a group that you feel called to help in a special way, get involved right away. As soon as possible, invite your friends to come along with you and be part of a little network of helping. Most people who really make a big difference in the world through caring are just ordinary folks like you and me, but they have a passion for something that ignites a happiness around helping that they can pass on to everyone with whom they come in contact.
“The Hidden Gifts of Helping How the Power of Giving, Compassion, and Hope Can Get Us Through Hard Times” by Stephen G. Post. Jossey-Bass, Wiley, 2011.