For all of us to answer this aspirational question, we first must define generosity. Early uses of the word derive from the Latin word generosus which means “of noble birth”. As such, in the sixteenth century if someone described you as generous they would be saying that you “belong to nobility”. In the seventeenth century, generosity began to be associated not in the literal family lineage sense, but rather to someone who has nobility of spirit; a highly-admired quality which encompassed traits such as courage, strength, open handedness, richness, gentleness and fairness.
From the eighteenth century to the present, generosity has evolved to reflect its contemporary meaning defined as: nobility of mind; magnanimity; willingness to give or share; or someone who is unselfish. According to this definition, one does not need to hold financial wealth to aspire to the title of generous. In fact, giving time, practicing patience and expressing love, when given to others freely and abundantly, all contribute to generosity.
Regardless of definition, some of us are new to generosity and some are already firmly on the path. The great news is we can start being generous anytime and reap the benefits. Current research demonstrates that generous people have a greater sense of well-being, happiness and purpose. So, consider these tips as you take another step on your journey toward generosity:
- Be Other-Centered – Most people are not naturally generous, they aspire to it and often someone inspired them. Take time to see and meet the needs of those around you, and be generous in calling out the people and circumstances in your life that inspire you to live generously.
- Don’t Fake It – Some people decide they might want to be generous because of the well-researched benefits of happiness and well-being that come from living generously. Great! However, do not mistake the feeling of altruism (the practice of unselfish concern for the welfare of others) with true acts of generosity. Sending a tweet about how concerned you are… might be, but is probably not an act of generosity. Giving time, money, practicing patience or providing loving acts of kindness freely and abundantly are the building blocks of a strong generous spirit. Trying to fool yourself into feeling generous will only leave you wondering why it didn’t “work” and you’re left feeling unhappy.
- Trust, Practice, Repeat – Caring for others by giving yourself away freely seems contrary to the “take for yourself and accumulate as much as you can” attitude of our culture. If you reflect on the good provided to the recipient rather than the inconvenience of giving time, money or kind acts, you will experience a greater sense of happiness, well-being and purpose, even if it seems contrary to what the culture is telling you to do. So, trust the data, practice other-centered generosity, repeat as often as possible, and then see for yourself. We look forward to hearing the stories of increased joy and purpose in your life.