Susan Sparks: Generosity Is the New Currency


This is a terrifying blog -- especially for educated people -- as a liberal arts major is about to offer a message on economics.

But first, I will talk about something with which I am a little more familiar: shopping. We are in the middle of the holiday season during which we tend to spread our cash far and wide on things like Xbox One, Big Hugs Elmo or a bottle of Minajesty perfume by Nicki Minaj. Some crazy people are going as far as buying things like a $1.5 million dollar his and hers outdoor entertainment system or an $11K exercise bike -- both featured in theNeiman Marcus holiday catalog (in case you are still shopping for that perfect gift).

Oh, we can spread cash. But when it comes to spreading another powerful holiday commodity, love, we don't do so well. We find ourselves increasingly worn down with the holiday errands, annoyed with all the extra mall traffic, and stressed by family demands. As a result, we become short, impatient, even unloving at times. We freely spread our cash, not our love -- and that needs to change.

It may be as simple as altering our perspective about the role of cash versus generosity. A writer friend of mine, Brooke Warner, recently wrote a blog post arguing that "generosity is the new currency." It's such a simple, but powerful concept. Generosity trumps cash, as it is the more powerful commodity.

Unlike money, which only buys you things, generosity can bring healing. For example, studies show that being generous with one's time, for example through volunteering, can lengthen your life, lower blood pressure, help manage pain and boost overall feelings of well-being.

Unlike money, generosity is actually a better business tool. In the new book, Give and TakeWharton Professor Adam Grant argues that the greatest untapped source of motivation in the workplace is not cash, but a sense of service to others; focusing on how one's contribution enriches others' lives is the best way to inspire behavior.

Unlike money, generosity can actually shift our perspective. When we give or do for others, our focus changes from our life to theirs. It also means that our attention shifts away from our own problems and allows us to see the big picture outside our own limited circumstances.

Unlike money, generosity actually restores our soul. As the philosopher, Nietzsche, said, "He who cannot give anything away cannot feel anything either." .

And unlike money, there is no need to for the central bank to regulate the supply of generosity out of a fear of inflation. Generosity is limitless and can expand and grow for years to come, especially if we choose to share it.

There is a concept called "paying it forward." Benjamin Franklin first wrote about it; then Ralph Waldo Emerson picked it up in his 1841 essay,Compensation. He wrote, "In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody." In essence, it is rare that we can pay anyone back for the gifts or blessings they have given us, so we must try to find someone to whom we can pay it forward. The classic example is parents. We rarely get the opportunity to pay back our parents for their generosity and gifts, but we have the opportunity to pay them forward to our own children -- to the next generation.

This holiday season, I hope we all stop and think about how we can make generosity the new currency in our own lives. There are a number of ways you can do it. I read about a woman who packs extra subway maps in her purse so she can give them out to confused looking tourists. A friend of mine packs a couple of extra power bars in his briefcase and gives them to people on the way to work who are asking for food. I even read about someone who said an anonymous driver in front of her paid her bridge toll. Generosity can spring from all manner of things -- from caregiving or prayer, from forgiveness and listening; even a hug is an act of generosity, like Amma, the hugging saint. Her gift is to offer hugs. That's it. And people travel from all over the world, lining up for hours just to receive her embrace.

Generosity is the new currency. Spend it freely and extremely -- this season and always. It may be the one most important thing we can do in this life. As the Quaker Missionary Stephen Grellet explained, "I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. "

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