Last weekend, I hosted a dinner for the US-based staff of The Hope Effect. The nonprofit organization that we founded in 2015 to change how the world cares for orphans has now grown to 14 employees—three based in the US and 11 based around the world.
At the dinner, I asked Joe Darago, our Executive Director, if he wanted to say a few words.
At one point during his comments, he said something that immediately caught my attention. “We are thankful for the opportunity to invite others to use their financial resources for greater pursuits than material possessions.”
“Indeed we are,” I remember thinking to myself. It was similar to a comment a mentor once said to me, “Don’t ever feel bad asking someone to volunteer with you. You are doing them a favor by providing them an opportunity to serve others.”
It is a joy to invite others to a cause greater than their personal enrichment.
Clearly, when we give our unneeded stuff, our extra money, and our available time away, we can make life better for others. But in a beautiful way, our generosity is good for us too.
I’m not saying that we should be generous so that we can benefit from it personally. We should be generous for the sake of others—that’s our motivation. But at the same time, we should expect some intangible benefits to rebound to us, and we should accept them gratefully.
I can attest that generosity makes me feel better about myself and what I’m doing with my life. And I know I’m not alone. Many people who are generous report a greater sense of satisfaction and happiness. Studies have even linked generosity to improved physical health. Amazing!
Furthermore, I’ve observed that generous people have more fulfilling relationships. People always enjoy the company of a generous giver to the company of a selfish hoarder. People are naturally attracted to others who have an open heart to share with others. And a good friend is the best gift you could ever give yourself.
Those who are generous also tend to value what they own. People who give away possessions hold their remaining possessions in higher esteem. People who donate money are far less wasteful with the money left over. And people who give their time make better use of their time remaining.
Yet at the same time, generous people find meaning outside their possessions. Which is what Joe was commenting on at our dinner.
Although many people wrap up self-worth in net worth (as if a person’s true value could ever be tallied on a balance sheet!), generous people find their value in helping others. They quickly realize that their bank statement says nothing about their true value.
Because of this, they have less desire for more. They have found fulfillment, meaning, value, and relationships outside the acquisition of possessions.
They have learned to find joy in what they already possess and give away the rest. In other words, they have found contentment.
But maybe the greatest benefit of generosity is this: generous people realize that they already have enough.
Too often we are held hostage by the pursuit of more. No matter how much we have, we always seem to need more—more stuff and more money.
We choose our careers for the sake of securing more. We spend the best hours of our day trying to obtain more. We get jealous when “less deserving” people seem to have more. And we constantly worry about having enough.
But this constant desire for more is having damaging effects on our society.
Seventy-one percent of us report feeling stress about money. There are some who experience this anxiety because of legitimate financial need, but for most of us, this stress is completely misplaced. In a world where 1 billion people live on less than $2/day, most of our financial-related stress occurs because of artificially manufactured need.
Generosity changes these thoughts and helps to remove this pursuit. It reveals to us how blessed we already are. It reminds us we already own more than we need. It shows us how much we have to give and how much good we can accomplish. It helps us see the needs of those we live alongside. And it offers a better alternative for our money than spending it on ourselves.
If you’re motivated by a desire to be more generous, let it spur you on to complete the process of living with less. And as your minimizing frees up resources you can share, go ahead and give them away with freedom and joy. Your heart will feel warmer. The world will be a better place. And you will discover you never even needed the stuff in the first place.
So this very day, donate clothing you don’t wear, sporting equipment you don’t use, books you aren’t going to read, or the furniture needlessly taking up space. Make a financial donation to a charity you support. Be generous with your time by volunteering at your local school, homeless shelter, or nonprofit of your choice.
It’s the quickest shortcut I can suggest to both happiness and living a life of impact.