We’re focusing on generosity this month and the timing of this seems perfect to me. Here’s why: we are all very much consumed with how WE feel right now, as an uncertain school year unfolds and we tiptoe back into the office with trepidation. Most of our conversations sound something like, “I’m so nervous.....” or “I can’t believe my boss expects me to.....” or “My child has to.....” When we feel uncertain or anxious, we hyper-focus on the self, and everything we can control to make the self feel better.
Enter Generosity. Generous people are said to have “the quality of being kind or
plentiful with what they have.” When we act in a generous way, a twofold experience unfolds. That is, we get to feel good about what we chose to do and the recipient of our generosity gets to feel good, too.
If it’s such a win-win proposition, then why don’t we all engage in acts of generosity more often? Unfortunately, evolution has taught us that in order to survive, as a species, we must focus on potential hazards and threats in our environment. This mindset is what leads us to hoard toilet paper or only to notice the cranky outburst a friend has once rather than focusing on all the other, uplifting, funny, interesting interactions we’ve had with this friend. Thanks to ancient wiring that predisposed us to notice a threatening flaw or a suspicious maneuver, we tend to focus on the negative and its potential impact on the self. So, to be generous means we are swimming upstream, against what is hardwired in us as human beings. Being generous requires the assumption that others are good, and worthy of our donation of time or benevolence. This can be a stretch for the depleted, exhausted mind fatigued by homeschooling, babysitting, refereeing, cooking, and barely finding time to shower for the past six months.
Fall of 2020 might be the best time ever to experiment with being a little more generous each day. When we lift our eyes from our own troubles or worries, and focus on the happiness of another person, we always feel better. Lots of folks could use a generous gesture or even a generous sentence from each of us right now. Could your generous act just be a phone call to check in on someone who might be lonely? Or, perhaps, dropping off a spontaneous coffee cake to a neighbor who is having a hard time? It might just be the decision to linger a little longer with a friend you bump into at the grocery store, just long enough to ask, “How are you doing with all of this?”
I recently asked a lovely, young woman who seems to have it all together how she was doing in the face of a tremendous loss she and her family experienced over the summer. She was immediately reduced to tears, and responded, “No one ever asks me that.” Was this an act of generosity on my part? Perhaps, but more importantly, it was an opportunity to let another person know, “I see you, and I have the time and energy to spend listening to you and your story right now.” Sometimes, we forget to be generous with our time. This conversation proved to be so valuable and poignant to me, and it only required me to devote a few, extra minutes, nothing else. We often associate the concept of “being generous” with donating money or giving away something huge, but maybe we can reconsider generosity this fall? Maybe we can just choose one person and approach them with the intent of being generous with our time, meaning we set our phone down, we give them our eye contact, and we just listen carefully to their story. That’s a simple act of generosity available to each one of us, starting this afternoon. Try it out. See how it makes you feel.
Our monthly content is ideated and written by Cristina Young, LCSW, who has more than 25 years of experience providing professional support to children, adolescents, adults, and families.