In The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World,” His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, along with Douglas Abrams, include a wonderful chapter on the importance of generosity. In it they note generosity is an outgrowth of compassion and is important to many of the world’s religions because it expresses a fundamental aspect of our interdependence and need for one another. Citing the 2015 World Happiness Report, they explain generosity was so important for human survival that the reward centers of our brain light up when we give as when we receive. Adding, “…one of the strongest predictors of well-being worldwide is the quality of our relationships. Generous, pro-social behavior seems to strengthen these relationships across cultures. Generosity is even associated with better health and longer life expectancy.”
James Doty was a neurosurgeon and made a fortune as a medical technology entrepreneur and had pledged stock worth $30 million to charity. At one time, his net worth was over $75 million. When the stock market crashed, he lost everything and went bankrupt. What was left was the $30 million pledged to charity. His lawyers told him he could wriggle out of his promised charitable contributions and that everyone would understand that his circumstances had changed.
“One of the persistent myths in our society,” Jim explained, “is that money will make you happy. Growing up poor, I thought money would give me everything I did not have: control, power, love. When I finally had all the money I ever dreamed of, I discovered that it did not make me happy. And when I lost it all, all of my false friends disappeared.”
Jim decided to go through with his contribution. “At that moment,” he said, “I realized that the only way money can bring happiness is to give it away.”
“Give the world your love, your service, your healing, and your joy,” write the authors. “When we practice generosity of spirit, we are in many ways practicing all the other pillars of joy. In generosity, there is a wider perspective, in which we see our connection to all others. There is a humility that recognizes our place in the world and acknowledges that at another time we could be the one in need, whether that need is material, emotional, or spiritual. There is a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at ourselves so that we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
(Admittedly, this last sentence is an aspect that requires some attention in my life.)
“There is an acceptance of life in which we do not force life to be other than what it is. There is forgiveness of others and a release of what might otherwise have been. There is gratitude for all that we have been given. Finally, we see others with a deep compassion and a desire to help those who are in need.” As the Dalai Lama put it: “Taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is a way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life.”
Or, as the Apostle Paul is recorded as saying to the earliest Christian communities: “In everything I did, I showed you by this kind of hard work we must help the weak. Remembering the words of the Lord Jesus Himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
Dear friends, consider making one or more of the following sentences your blessing or prayer this month. Perhaps set aside time every morning as a way of orienting your heart and return to your simple prayer throughout the day. These words can be offered as a blessing for yourself, someone else, and/or group or community, such as the church.
May I (you) (we) know the truth of our interconnectedness and need for one another.
May I (you) (we) know the happiness and well-being that accompany a generous heart.
May I (you) (we) see others with deep compassion and a desire to help those in need.
Grace and Peace,