The Completely Achievable Path to Generosity

“The wise man does not lay up his own treasures. The more he gives to others, the more he has for his own.” – Lao Tzu

I have never seen a study on positive qualities that people would like to have, but I bet if we asked ten people if they wanted to be considered generous, ten would say “yes.” Yet, we know that not ten out of ten people are generous.

For many, the idea of being generous appears attractive, but the demands of life and unpaid bills on the kitchen table make the ideal appear unattainable. Let me assure you that the path to generosity is not as difficult as you might think. Once we open the gate to the ideal in our life, we begin to see that the path is actually completely achievable regardless of how high the stack of bills may be. Consider these simple steps to get you started:

  • Consider the benefits. Generosity benefits the person who receives the gifts, but there are also numerous benefits for the giver. Studies have shown that generous people are generally happier, healthier, more satisfied with life, and have deeper relationships with other people.
  • Realize that it’s not about your income. Many people get caught into the thinking that once they make more money they will become more generous. In fact, the opposite is true. Consider that the US Bureau of Labor found that the poorest fifth of America’s households contributed an average of 4.3 percent of their incomes to charitable organizations in 2007 while the richest fifth gave at less than half that rate, 2.1 percent. The best time to start being generous is not when you get that raise, it’s today!
  • Open your eyes and heart to the needs around you. There is no shortage of people who need your help. The problem is not that we can’t find others to help. The problem is that we are just too busy to notice. Slow down, take a look around your neighborhood, your community, your workplace, or your school. And you’ll begin noticing a surplus of opportunities for generosity.
  • Stop viewing stuff as your own. We’re all sharing this planet together and the resources are finite. Let’s be clear: I’m not against private property. But I am against the richest 20% consuming 76.6% of the world’s resources, while the world’s poorest 20% consume only 1.5%. It’s time to start thinking beyond our four walls and two-car garages and start realizing that we’re all in this together.
  • Dream bigger dreams for your money. Your income can be used to improve the quality of life for others. It can be used to make your community a better place to live. It can be used to deliver clean water and fresh food to a young child. Or you can use it to buy a newer car, a bigger television, or a trendier coat. Dream bigger dreams for your money than the sale rack in the department store. Find a cause that you believe in and use your finances to make a real difference in our world.
  • Put it in your budget and give first. Make “charitable donations” an item in your budget and follow through. Plan to spend it. And whenever possible, start there.
  • Spend time with generous people / Find a role model. We tend to take on the characteristics of the people that we spend the most time with. Therefore, begin to spend time with generous people. Observe them. Ask them questions. As you begin to find their lifestyle attractive, you will begin to adopt it.
  • Trust others. One of the greatest obstacles to generosity can be distrust of others. For some, a deep distrust of charities, religious organizations, or government inhibit their ability to give. For others, a more specific distrust of humans inhibit their ability to give. This distrust exhibits itself in thoughts such as, “I would give that man some money except how do I know what he is going to do with it,” or “If we just give it to them, they will just become dependent on us.” Trusting people are happy people. So learn to trust others and give a helping hand whenever possible.
  • Think beyond your dollar bills. You have so much more to offer this world than just your savings account. You have talents, experiences, and wisdom. Think beyond money and begin to invest your life into others. This step is, of course, more difficult than signing a check… it is also far more valuable.

Find a step, then take a step. The path to generosity is completely achievable. The only thing missing may be you.

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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  1. says

    What a beautiful article!! It almost brings me to tears.. I always say that when I make more money I will be more generous. Enough of that! I will start RIGHT NOW!! Thank you for reminding me what is most important in life. I’m so grateful! Lots of love!

    • di says

      I only made about $20,000 a year. My brothers make more than $100,000 a year. I’m generous, but they have never been.

      Depends upon your true character.

  2. says

    Awesome article. You don’t have to only give money to be generous, give your time. If you are skilled in a specific area, why not teach your skills to someone who could benefit from them, or offer your services for free to a charity. This is what is so fantastic about minimalism, minimalists love to share knowledge. Thanks for sharing:)

  3. says

    I especially like the advice to start now, instead of saying, “once I’m rich, then I’ll give more.” The problem is that we keep telling ourselves that as our incomes go up and never get there mentally.

    One thing that came to mind when you shared the Bureau of Labor statistics is that even though the richest give a lower percentage of their wealth, in real dollar amounts their donations far outshine those of the poor.

    Most of what really gets done in terms of charity is from donations from the wealthy and corporations.

  4. says

    This is so helpful and truly makes generosity seem doable. I’ve always found the “realize that it’s not about your income” statistic fascinating. Most helpful to me in this article is: “put it in your budget and give first.” I think I will be much more conscious of giving back and being generous if I include in the budget, right along side the gym membership and Sunday times subscription. Once you budget it in, its not about needing more before you can give. Thanks!

    • di says

      For years, I never contributed, because I only had one small income. There’s also a point where it’s not wise to contribute to others, because of your own responsibilities to your family.

  5. says

    I find setting up monthly automatic donations, or giving via your paycheque are easy ways to start to donate without it feeling like a ‘sacrifice’. I treat it like a tax that I have a choice about – I don’t donate much, but I know it’s an income my charity of choice can rely on.

    I also always donate to a charity for a xmas present – I let the person I’m donating for pick the charity. The result is that I’ve given to some charities that I would never have even considered! But I make people happy, and it’s better than giving/owning more ‘stuff’.

  6. says

    This brings awareness to those who think that money and finances is the only way to give. Thanks for sharing. It’s important that we do know that there are more ways to give than giving in the form of money.

    We can give of our time, love,we can even give items to charity like old clothes that we no longer wear. When we exercise those creative juices we will be surprised at the many ways we can give other than in the form of money.

    Great article!!

  7. Deborah says

    My partner and I have had a giving budget for a little while now. It doesn’t always go to charities, sometimes it goes to people we know like my in-laws who are struggling with the recession. What I really want to do is get back to volunteering, though. Giving time is so much harder than giving money, or at least I have a bigger mental block. I feel like my energy is so finite since taking a job with a long commute after loosing the one near my house.

  8. Carolyn Wright says

    Would like to use you picture of generosity on a new website yet to be released. Please advise.
    Thanks so much. Carolyn

  9. Orlando says

    Awsome article. It is true that when you give one feels more happy. I started with microloans (…although its not really giving) and it felt ‘right’. Then I went on to discover that when you give anonymously or simply keep to yourself a generous act you’ve done the power you feel inside is incredibly immense. Thanks for reminding us of our power.

  10. says

    Beautiful post. I love your steps — and they work. Having worked at a homeless shelter, I have witnessed lives change, hearts soften and minds open when people have come in to volunteer.

    This Christmas we ‘adopted’ a 15 unit apartment building and created Christmas for the formerly homeless veterans living there. The act of connecting with the residents of the building changed many lives.

    this year, I am culling something every day from my home — if what I’m giving away is in good shape and servicable, it goes to agencies working with homeless individuals.

    We can all make a difference.

  11. Melissa says

    “Dream bigger dreams for your money than the sale rack in the department store.” Love, love, love this. Thank you for the continuing inspiration.

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