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Generosity Is the Key to Happiness

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Want to be happy? Give something away. Generosity can be amazingly powerful; not only is it the ‘right thing to do’ but scientists have proven it’s incredibly good for us. In one study, participants were given $20 and were given the choice to spend it on themselves or to spend it on someone else. Guess who was happier?

But the benefits don’t end there. When we are generous, we become healthier. We experience reduced stress. We have improved relationships with others. And we live longer. The absence of generosity (or having a somewhat ‘stingy’ demeanour ) has been shown to have the opposite effect on all counts. So, let’s all do everything we can to avoid that situation.

We can express generosity in many ways. Some of us can donate to causes we deem worthy. Or seek out volunteer activities, like serving in a hospital, nursing home, animal shelter, campaign, election, or school.

Those of us who can’t spare time or money can simply choose to live an altruistic life. According to Oxford Dictionaries is being ‘disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others’. I think I’d insert the word ‘sincere’ in there somewhere, too. And something tells me that an altruistic life leads to philanthropy, volunteering, or all of the above.

There’s really something for everyone. There’s no reason why we can’t all choose to be generous, in one way or another. Making the choice to do so turns out to be very critical. Some organisations have ‘volunteer’ events, where employees are expected to participate. Some schools pressure parents into mandatory ‘volunteer’ hours. Other groups can pressure you to: 1) Do something you don’t want to do; 2) Do something at a time that is inconvenient for you; or, 3)Buy something that you neither need nor want.

Unfortunately, these situations do not generate the benefit of other activities where we choose to give. Our brains and bodies know the difference. So, when we do something we were ‘voluntold’ to do, we don’t get the health or other benefits attached to a genuine act of generosity.

Just say no if an activity doesn’t feel right, fit right, or make your heart sing, graciously decline. If you don’t believe a cause, don’t give money to folks pandering outside the WalMart.  Don’t buy Girl Scout cookies if you’re trying to watch your calories. Just give them a donation instead, if you are so moved. And don’t buy the wallpaper, greeting cards, pizza, coupon books, or whatever – just don’t do it.

But do something. Give from your heart, whether it be time, money, prayers, positive energy, a home cooked meal for a friend coping with a sick family member, a donation of babysitting for a young couple who need a night out, raking leaves for an elderly neighbour, or an hour of tutoring to a struggling student.

And remember that generosity doesn’t have to be material – we can give attention, patience, support, and unconditional love to each other every day, at no cost, and without it taking any additional time.  Something as simple as a kindly smile can ‘qualify’ as an act of generosity – a selfless act that benefits others.

When we are generous, we feel better, and those around us do as well. Let’s find a new and creative way to demonstrate the spirit of generosity among us, and enjoy the benefits to each other and to ourselves, too. And remember. We are all so much more than enough.

Joan Senio is a mental health blogger who runs My Best Friend Adeline. She is a wife, mother, sister, daughter, godmother and aunt. 


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