10 Simple Ways to Become a More Generous Person

“You have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” — John Bunyan

There are very few people who don’t like the idea of generosity. We are indeed a species that loves to help others and confront needs when we see them. Unfortunately, there are also very few people who are content with the level of generosity in their lives. Most people I know wish they were able to give more. And while there are a number of reasons that this may be the case… sometimes the best solution may be the simplest.

To that end, there are a number of simple steps that we can take to make generosity more intentional in our lives. If you have never given away any money or time, this would be a great way to get started (no matter what your current economic situation is). On the other hand, if you are just hoping to raise the level of generosity in your life, you will also find some of these simple steps to be relevant and helpful.

10 Simple Ways to Become a More Generous Person

1. Consider the benefits of generosity. Generous people report being happier, healthier, and more satisfied with life than those who don’t give. Generosity produces within us a sense that we are capable of making a difference in the world, that we are actively addressing the needs of those around us, and that we are shaping our community into a healthier one. While generosity is typically seen as the opposite of self-serving, counting the personal benefits is indeed one of the most important steps that we can take in getting started.

2. Embrace gratitude. Make a list of the things in your life for which you are grateful. Your list doesn’t have to be long. It won’t take much time. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be a physical list (in your head will be completely sufficient). Sometimes, the most important step you can take to become more generous is to spend more time thinking about what you already possess and less time thinking about what you don’t. Once you start intentionally thinking that way, you may be surprised just how good you already have it… and become more apt to share your life with others.

3. Start really small. If you’ve never given away money, start by giving away $1. If you are embarrassed to give just $1, don’t be. You’ve got nothing to worry about: there are plenty of charities online that allow you to give with your credit card and you’ll never cross paths with the people who record your $1 donation. Of course, the point of this exercise is not to report a $1 tax deduction on your year-end tax return. The point is to get started. If you’ll feel more comfortable giving $5, $10, or $20, start there. But no matter what dollar amount you choose, jump right in with something small. You can afford it… and that little push can help build momentum in your life towards generosity.

4. Give first. When you receive your next paycheck, make your first expense an act of giving. Often times, we wait to see how much we have left over before we determine how much we can give away. The problem is that most of the time after we start spending, there is nothing left over. The habit of spending all of it is too deeply ingrained in our lives. To counteract that cycle, give first. Every payday, write a check for $10 to your local homeless shelter. You just may be surprised how you won’t even miss it.

5. Divert one specific expense. For a set period of time (try 29 days), divert one specific expense to a charity of your choosing. You may choose to bring a lunch to work, ride your bike to work once/week, or give up Starbucks on Mondays (wait, make that Thursday). Calculate the money you’ll save and then redirect it to a specific charity/cause. Whatever you choose, I recommend picking something that would be fun to give up – something unique that you’ll remember. And setting a specific period of time for the experiment should make it completely achievable. Courtney Carver gave away an extra $225 last month just giving up Starbucks.

6. Fund a cause based on your passions. There are countless charities/causes that need your support. And some of them are directly in-line with your most compelling passions. What are you most passionate about? Is it the environment, poverty, or religion? Maybe it’s world peace, child nutrition, or animal rights? What about education, civil rights, or clean water? Identify what passions already move you, find a committed organization around that cause, and then joyfully help them in their work. In my life, that means I support Essex CHIPS with both my finances and time. It is a local organization that empowers teenagers to make healthy choices. Since I’ve worked with students my entire life, this organization was just a natural extension of my existing passions. As a result, supporting them made perfect sense.

7. Find a person you believe in. If you find that you are more easily motivated and shaped by the people in your life rather than organizations/causes, use that tendency as motivation instead. Take careful notice of the people in your life that you most admire. What organizations/causes do they hold most dear? Who do they support? What makes them passionate about supporting it? And how can you get involved alongside them?

8. Spend time with people in need. One of the most effective antidotes for non-generosity is to make space in your life for those who actually need your help. After all, it is a very small step to go from knowing somebody in need to helping somebody in need. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to volunteer one meal at your local homeless shelter. Most homeless shelters readily accept volunteers and have systems in place to get you started. And rubbing shoulders with the poor just may change your impression of them forever.

9. Spend time with a generous person. One of the most life-changing conversations I’ve ever had about generosity occurred when I found the courage to start asking specific questions of the right person. I remember starting with, “Have you always been generous?” And immediately followed with more: “When did you become so generous? How did it start? How do you decide where your money goes? What advice would you give someone who wants to get started?” It was life-changing. And the other guy paid for the meal… go figure.

10. Live a more minimalist life. Intentionally decide to own less. Oh sure, living a minimalist life won’t automatically make you a more generous person, but it will provide the space necessary to make it possible. You’ll spend less money on things at the department store. You’ll have more time/energy to help others. And the intentionality that emerges in your life will help you discover the need for generosity. Minimalism has resulted in many positive changes in my life – becoming more generous has been one of the most important.

Generosity rarely happens by chance. Instead, it is an intentional decision that we make in our lives. But it does not need to be as difficult as many people think. Sometimes, starting with the simple steps is the best step that we can take.

What simple steps have you incorporated into your life to foster generosity?

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    This is a great post. And I think it’s the next step after getting a life in order because it’s outwardly focused. For many people reading our blogs, generousity is the new decluttering. It’s what happens next in a life that’s so much more interesting than an average one.
    Gip

  2. Liz G says

    This is a great post. I want to bring more generosity into my life. However, you focus mainly on financial generosity. How can we quantify time given or even social generosity? Are these the same things as giving financially?
    My other issue for someone like myself who has immense student loan and other debt from grad school and recession years, is that it can feel like anything extra should go to pay off these debts. Any advice?

    • says

      Good thoughts Liz. I did intend to write this post with a bent towards financial generosity. I have written previously about giving time as generosity and living a life that seeks to serve others rather than ourselves… but the intent and the focus of this post did specifically target financial gifts (although I did make one early reference to time).

      Concerning your debt, pay it off. Good for you on sending any extra towards it. But don’t get stuck thinking that you can’t embrace generosity until it’s all paid off. Certainly, volunteering is an act of generosity and should be considered as such. But even a $5/month recurring donation to a cause that you believe in may result in a brand new view on money… and may give you extra incentive to get out of debt in order to be freed up to donate more.

        • says

          Thank you Anne Stockwell. I was literally just going to post the same thing. Giving blood costs you nothing and your one pint can save as many as three lives. I work for The Blood Alliance in Beaufort, SC and I can’t stress enough the ease with which you can make such a tremendous difference to another human being with such little time and effort and for no money. Yes, it’s my job but this is also my passion! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

    • Toni says

      Could you donate blood? A blood donation could help save lives. I really hate donating myself but do it every 6 weeks because it matters to someone.

  3. Tiffany says

    Great post. This is actually one of my committed to paper goals for 2011…be more generous with time, money, and smiles :)

    I tend to get caught up in my concern for having enough money and paying off debt, and I often feel there’s not enough left over to give…but as you said, minimilism is freeing up my time and money, and showing me just how much I have to give.

  4. says

    I think that becoming minimalist is a huge door-opener for being able to be generous. Not only financially, but as a mindset. When we are less inclined to hold so tightly to our stuff, it is so much easier to give.
    I heard a story from a pastor once that has many interpretations and applications and it also fits here. A 2 year old was trying to pick up spilled marshmallows off the floor. She had both hands packed full and was trying to get more and more. But she got to a point where she could not get anymore in her hands. Then mother comes along with a bag of fresh marshmallows and offers them to the little girl. She refused to get the fresh clean fluffy marshamallows because she could not let go of what she had in her hands.
    We are not open to being blessed it we hold so tightly to our stuff!
    Thanks for sharing Joshua!
    Bernice
    Who is stealing your time?

  5. says

    I like number 8. Also, I prefer to give (whether it be time or money) directly to individuals whom I might help. That lets me see that I am really helping, even if it is only one or a tiny group, and it bypasses much of the inefficiency (administrative overhead and other waste) that seems to plague many organized charities.

    • says

      Mike, I agree with your approach. I give straight to a homeless person I see on the street instead of to an organization. Yes they may not spend it wisely, but yes it has gone straight to them with no “administrative fees or policies”.

      I worked very briefly at a Salvation Army thrift store. I remember how bad I felt when people came in, obviously in need, and the policies would not allow anything to be done for them. They had to travel across town to another building (difficult for a homeless person without transportation) and fill out a form for any request. I still feel for one man, on a particularly cold day, who simply wanted a blanket. I couldn’t give it to him and policy prevented me from buying it for him. He went back out into the cold with no blanket even though there was a stack of freely donated blankets sitting right there and the county Salvation Army administrative headquarters right next door.

    • Ann says

      I also like to see how my time, money & items are helping others when possible. Our local Love INC (Love in the Name of Christ) is wonderful about that. Also, there is at least one organization that evaluates the fiscsal responsibility of many charities. If you google that and call their 800#, or maybe even just look online, you can see exactly where their donations are going. That helped us start giving to organizations like World Vision (who btw will send you photos of your sponsored child holding the items they buy with any gift money you send!).

  6. Heather says

    I think if you open your self up to look for ways to help others, ask and then really listen to what people say that you can find someone to help everyday. It might not be a big huge gesture- maybe just holding the door open or making them smile- but the opportunity to give is there everyday to everbody you see

  7. says

    Excellent post. So true how on top of all this, we truly need to give it away to keep it. Whatever it is for you. Good brain food for the day.

  8. laura m. says

    I agree with Mike in giving directly to a small group or individual. I stick with local community projects as I believe charity begins at home. Most organized national charities are inefficient, taking large salaries. I stick to the Salvation Army or church run charities in the area. We also have local food banks and several group homes for handicapped. Decluttering goes to a charity, never yard sales. Trying to sell stuff for the most part is a hassle, as people don’t show up for appointments when they answer a news paper ad.

  9. says

    When you help others you get a sense of fulfillment, it feels great to help others.
    I think it is something we should all strive to do.

    Though I do at times find it difficult to help others when I know they will never be able to give anything back. At those times I try to remember the law of karma.
    If I help someone in need some day someone will help me and according to karma I will get 3 times as much help as I gave.

  10. says

    This year I’ve started giving monthly donations to charity, and I only wish I’d started sooner. I really like picking out a different charity each month and reading about the things they do. I also try to remember to carry change with me when I walk around the city so that I can give it to homeless people, although I still forget to do that a lot of the time.

    Oddly, the thing that stopped me from giving money for a long time was that it felt like a bottomless hole – I’d always feel I should be giving more, and it seemed so overwhelming that I didn’t give anything at all. Funny how that works, because of course giving anything is better than giving nothing, but somehow it can just seem so daunting that it’s easier not to think about it. I’m glad I finally did start thinking about it though :)

  11. says

    Hey Joshua;
    Great to see this and what you are up to. I’m planning on a series regarding “sabbath” this year and I think some of your thoughts will go well. Keep up the good work.

  12. says

    Nice list.

    Gratitude is vital to generosity. I think very often we need to appreciate just how much we already have in order to feel able to share. Unfortunately we often compare ourselves and our lives to those immediately around us, or even worse figures from the media – if we were more aware of the billions living with far less than we do in the developing world (and within our own societies), we’d probably feel far richer, and more generous as a result.

    I plan to write something on creating an attitude of giving shortly, and you’ve given me plenty to think about.

    -STEVE-

  13. says

    Thanks Joshua. I think we often forget to bring gratitude to our lives. Being busy with “the life”, stressed out and focused on things we generally shouldn’t be (unless one is a minimalist of course ha ha) sometimes turns us into something we probably wouldn’t be. It’s good to get reminded of the real values in life.
    Thanks Joshua

    • says

      I have tried the Playa and Ninja styles and love them. I do run trlais and not asphalt as much as I can, so the cheaper option seems to work for me without wearing out quickly. Added financial bonus I did one of those crazy mud runs recently and was able to just wash my ZEMs out afterwards while my friends were all trashing their shoes.

  14. amir memon says

    “Charity does not in any way decrease the wealth and the servant who forgives, Allah adds to his respect; and the one who shows humility, Allah elevates him in the estimation (of the people).” — the prophet muhammad ….

    Muslims believe that when (for example) $100 dollars are leaving your pocket physically at that moment, God will actually give you $1000 to $10000 in return if you have donated it purely for the sake of God. MANY MANY MANY have witnessed this.

  15. Khidr Subhani says

    …that which you give for charity, seeking the Countenance of Allah, (will increase); it is those who will get a recompense multiplied.” (Qur’an, 30:39)

    First hand account: Gave 6 dollars charity and it came back to me in the form of 400 dollars 2 weeks later. Muslims are highly encouraged to give charity as well.

    • says

      yet again I am seeing comments references the Holy Quran and highlighting the quranic teachings we ALL value and ALL benefit from. SubhanAllah!

      2:271 If you declare your charity, then it is acceptable; but if you conceal it and give it to the poor, then that is better for you. It depreciates some of your sins; and God is Ever-aware of all that you do.

      64:16 Therefore, be aware of God as much as you can, and listen, and obey, and give for charity for your own good. Whosoever is protected from his own hedonistic desires, then these are the successful ones.

      25:67 Those who when they give they are not excessive nor stingy, but they are in a measure between that.

      17:26 Give the relative his due, and the poor, and the wayfarer; and do not waste excessively.

      2:261 THE PARABLE of those who spend their possessions for the sake of God is that of a grain out of which grow seven ears, in every ear a hundred grains: for God grants manifold increase unto whom He wills; and God is infinite, all-knowing.

      2:262 They who spend their possessions for the sake of God and do not thereafter mar* their spending by stressing their own benevolence and hurting [the feelings of the needy] shall have their reward with ‘their Sustainer, and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.

      2:265 And the parable of those who spend their possessions out of a longing to please God, and out of their own inner certainty, is that of a garden on high, fertile ground: a rainstorm smites it, and thereupon it brings forth its fruit twofold; and if no rainstorm smites it, soft rain [falls upon it]. And God sees all that you do.

      2:274 Those who spend their possessions [for the sake of God] by night and by day, secretly and openly, shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.

  16. Rajan says

    You are absolutely right. Affordability is not a factor if someone decides to become generous. You have made me realise that minimalist lifestyle saves me so much money to help others. After all being a minimalist (started to be one) I have no other way to spend that extra money I save by not visiting malls without any reason. Thanks to you I am beginning to find out a hundred ways of minimalism which can allow me to help the needy.

  17. says

    Generosity is definitely an attitude as well as an action. It matters less about what you’re giving – a smile, hugs, love, support, knowledge, time, money… and more about the spirit with which we give and act in the world :)

  18. Sarah says

    And if you can’t give a monetary fund consider giving something else. Volunteer time at a local farm, food kitchen or reading to kids. Couchsurf and get to know new people. Offer a skill you already have or get paid for for free to someone starting out. There are so many small things that mean a great deal to people who don’t have them. You never know what thing you have or can offer that makes a big difference to another.

  19. says

    Joshua, I really appreciated your reminder that small changes can make a big difference. I realised this when using the staff canteen at work. I would get a chai latte every day, sometimes (because they are so nice) I would have 2. They are £1.20 each so I was spending about £40 a month on a cup of tea.
    When I started looking at the price of food in the canteen I started to take left-overs and sandwiches in a box for lunch and saved another £80 to £100 a month. Take into account the odd chocolate bar and biscuit I saved a good £150 a month and was healthier for it.

  20. Marla says

    Volunteering on a regular basis is truly a wonderful way to share your expertise, support or whatever you have to give (and a great way to give back and spread joy even on a tight $ budget).

  21. cam says

    For those of us who bring their lunch to work everyday and gave up Starbucks to pay our rent, just smile.
    Sometimes generosity is a smile. Smile say good morning to someone you normally wouldn’t just because
    you were in a hurry. Be generous with your courtesy say please and thank you. Have a nice day or How
    are you today, work as well. Just because you can’t extend any of the suggestions above doesn’t mean your
    smile isn’t worth something. All I have to give today is my smile and I hope you smile back. If not that’s okay,
    my heart smiles for both of us.

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  23. Lavada says

    About six years ago our family decided to forego Christmas gifts and donate the money we would have spent. We take turns each year picking a local charity and giving the money. The first year, the person in charge of the charity cried when she received the check. It is so much more rewarding than exchanging gifts we don’t need.

  24. Nancy says

    Grow your hair and donate to Locks of Love or Pantene for wigs for those going through chemo. I did this and it felt very good knowing a child or adult could make them feel less self conscious. It took me 3 years and I wore a pony tail or clip most of the time.
    When I had 8 inches (minimum needed), why not go the 12!

    After it was cut, the hairdresser knew the procedure to get the hair to locks of love. Make it a family thing. Guys can do it too…pony tails are sexy on a guy!

  25. says

    I would add this: Cultivate your gifts and talents to serve others. I like carpentry, so it’s very enjoyable to remodel a room, lay down some tile, or rebuild some cabinets. Are you a musician? Teach someone how to play the guitar or the piano. Are you an artist? teach someone how to draw or paint. Can you sew? Help someone learn to make their own clothes. Others have taught people to make jewelry and other items, how to start a small business on etsy or ebay. If you cultivate the spirit of servanthood, you’ll never be without opportunities to bless the lives of others, and that’s a good way to live.

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