When you think of the holiday season, do you think more about giving or receiving? As children, teens and young adults I think we are more focused on what we might receive than we are on what we wish to give, but as we mature, many of us begin to think more about giving, being generous to others, than about receiving the generosity of others. The common cultural saying is “It is better to give than to receive,” but I don’t think everyone would agree with this—just ask a child or a teenager. Both giving and receiving are important, though perhaps in different ways.
Generosity requires a recipient—a person, cause or organization to receive the generosity. There are an under-recognized grace and a different kind of generosity required in allowing others to give to us. It also feels good to others to give and be generous, so why hog all the pleasure? Let others feel good too. The next time someone wants to give you a gift, instead of explaining why they shouldn’t or why you don’t deserve it, maybe you can try, “Thank you so much! I really appreciate your thoughtfulness!”
So what exactly is generosity anyway? Is it the same as giving? Yes and no. Generosity is giving from a place of abundance and joy within oneself and doing so with little or no expectations of reciprocity. When we feel generous, we desire to give more than the minimum that may be expected or required. Our giving is grounded in an understanding of what is needed or desired and trying to fulfill that to the extent that it is within our power to do so. People are sometimes even generous beyond their means and that can short-circuit the benefits of giving if we allow ourselves to be manipulated by guilt or to be financially stressed by our own generosity.
We tend to associate the holidays as a season in which to be particularly generous: generous to family, friends, co-workers, charities, causes, and people in need. There are tremendous feelings of fulfillment associated with holiday generosity as long as that generosity originates from feelings of desire, rather than feelings of obligation and guilt. Generosity arising from feelings of obligation or guilt is not true generosity after all.
- What is your personal philosophy of giving and receiving? Are you comfortable with both? Neither? Or more comfortable with one than the other?
- There are many types of generosity: gifts, time, love, emotional support. In what ways do you express your generosity?
- Are you overly generous to the point that it makes the other person feel uncomfortable or that you stretch yourself beyond your means?
- If you had all the time, money and energy in the world, how would you direct your generosity?