David Lose: Generosity and Happiness

The relationship between money and happiness isn't a new topic for this blog and its readers. We've discussed before the relationship between happiness, money, and memory and, in particular, our inability to predict what will make us happy because of the fragility of memory. We've explored the peculiar power of our cultural narrative that having more stuff makes us happy when, in fact, what we need and want so much more than "more stuff" is time enjoy what we have. And we've seen how money can, in fact, make you happy when you spend it on others.

In this vein, I recently came across a brilliant little video that summarizes a lot of this - particularly on the power of giving to others - in just under 3 minutes. So while the information isn't totally new to us, it's presented in a fresh, lively, and succinct way.

But it also got me to thinking. If all this stuff about the power of giving money away is true - and we know that by our faith tradition, experience, and research - why do we keep talking about it in terms of money? I mean, aren't we really just talking about generosity? Except when it comes to generosity, we're never talking about "just generosity" because one of the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith is that we were made for each other.

Perhaps the profound assertion in Genesis that "it is not good for 'the man' to be alone" (2:18) doesn't refer only - or even primarily - to marriage. Interestingly, the Hebrew word translated "the man" (adam) at this point isn't used yet as a name - Adam - or to denote "maleness" particularly, but rather describes "the one made from the earth." So we might read this as, "It is not good for one who is mortal and made of earth to be alone." Or, put most simply, we were made for each other.

Which means that when we are generous we are being who we were made to be. No wonder, then, that generosity makes us happy. And because this is true, we can - and should! - broaden the conversation about happiness way beyond money. We can also increase our happiness by being who we are called to be by giving our time, our help, our gifts, our support, our encouragement, and more. Perhaps, then, generosity is simply seeing other as deserving- of our time, our interest, our love, of all that we have and are. That certainly includes money, but isn't limited by it.

Broadening the conversation matters, I think, for three important reasons. First, when we restrict generosity to money, we give the impression that only the wealthy can be truly generous, which we know isn't true but can seem that way, especially to those with little money to give. Second, by stretching our view of generosity we help to combat the very obsession with money that our culture encourages. Generosity is bigger than money...and so are we. Third, by including all kinds of other gestures as generous, we greatly expand our opportunities to practice generosity.

Generosity, like any other behavior, becomes easier with practice. And when we live in a culture that glorifies individual success and possessions, we need all the practice we can get. This is important to keep in mind when it comes to children - who can learn the habits of generosity and the joy of living generously - well before they have any money. But it is also both true and important for us at any time in our lives. I don't know if there is research out there yet that proves this, but I'd be willing to bet a fair amount that when we act generously with our time and talents we are more likely to be generous with our wealth as well.

So take three minutes and watch the video, think about changing the way we speak - shifting from talking about "money and happiness" to "generosity and happiness" - and share with our growing cyber-community (3500 subscribers strong!) in the comments below any ideas you have about practicing generosity.

And in the meantime, do something generous today - you'll be amazed (or maybe not!) at just how happy it makes you.

Thanks to Brainpickings for highlighting this video.

Taken with permission from David's blog, "...In the Meantime"