The highest form of giving is unconditional giving

He who gives when he is asked has waited too long. (Marcus Annaeus Seneca, BC 3 ~ 65 AD)

Generosity, or altruism, is a beautiful word because it contains within itself many more virtues. For how can you be generous if you are not already kind, unselfish, and compassionate? Generous people care more about others than they do about money, for they will do without luxuries so that others won’t have to do without necessities. Those who have yet to develop a generous heart also do without, for they do without the pleasures of giving.

The highest form of giving is unconditional giving. That is, giving anonymously, with no need or desire of recognition. The difference between giving with much fanfare and giving in secret is the difference between wishing to APPEAR generous and wishing to BE generous.

Like a healthy diet, generosity is good for us. According to the latest research, altruism increases life satisfaction by 27%. To put it another way, if we are not generous, we reduce our overall satisfaction by 27% or more. Some people may hold on to their money because they believe money brings happiness. But does it? According to a 2008 study by the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School, money CAN bring happiness, but only if we share it with others. And for those who are fortunate enough to be relatively well-off, giving as little as five dollars a day can significantly boost happiness.

So it appears we were given the instructions to love our neighbor as ourselves for a good reason: it is the formula for happiness. The Bible’s teaching can be expressed many ways. For instance, Booker T. Washington (1856 ~ 1915) said, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” And Sir James Matthew Barrie (1860 ~ 1937), creator of Peter Pan, wrote, “Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”

For the latest scientific research on the benefits of generosity, see: WHY GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE: The Exciting New Research that Proves the Link Between Doing Good and Living a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life, by Stephen Post and Jill Neimark, Broadway (publisher), 2007.

Yes, there are many benefits to giving, but as soon as one gives BECAUSE of the benefits, the benefits vaporize; there are none. For those who give in order to receive, are not giving at all, they are merely manipulating others in the hope of getting something in return. The benefits of giving come only to those who are sincere.

An especially interesting benefit of giving is, although they don’t know it, GENEROUS PEOPLE PROGRAM THEMSELVES FOR SUCCESS. But before I explain how and why, I need to briefly explain how our subconscious works. Designed to be our servant, our subconscious works 24 hours a day, seven days a week carrying out the instructions we give it.

Instructions? What instructions? Well, our subconscious assumes that WHAT WE BELIEVE AND WHAT WE THINK ABOUT IS WHAT WE WANT. Its role is not to judge whether its instructions are good or bad, but merely to listen, obey, and bring about whatever we ‘want’. And because of its great power, it is very successful in bringing about whatever we believe and think about.

Let’s look at an example. Mary BELIEVES she is poor. She spends most of her time THINKING ABOUT how poor she is. “Oh, I wish I wasn’t so poor. I always have to borrow money from my friends. Why am I so poor? I just can’t get out of this rut. I’ll never have any money.” Her belief and thoughts are interpreted as instructions by her subconscious. Unknown to Mary, her subconscious is saying, “Okay, Mary, I received your instructions. You want to be poor. Don’t worry. I’ll look after you. No matter what, I’ll grant your wish and make you poor.”

Now, let’s see how this plays out. Although Mary is always complaining about her poverty, a funny thing happens. Guess what? Mary wins the lottery. She wins $1.2 million dollars. Wow! She is now a millionaire. Now that she is, how does she act? Does she say to herself, “I’d better see a financial advisor to help me protect my newfound wealth?” No, she has entirely different thoughts. Here’s what she’s thinking, “Wow!” I’m a millionaire! All my troubles are over! I feel wonderful. Wouldn’t it be great to win even more? That’s a fantastic idea. That’s what I’ll do! I’m going to the casino, and by the time I’m through, I’ll be a billionaire!”

Yes, Mary went to the casino, but she didn’t become a billionaire. Quite the contrary, she lost everything! What went wrong? Well, Mary had already programmed herself to be poor, so after she won the lottery, her subconscious considered her winnings to be inconsistent with her ‘wish’ to be poor. In other words, her winnings were see as an obstacle that needed to be removed. And almost as quickly as she received her winnings, she lost it all, thanks to her subconscious that figured out how to get rid of the ‘obstacle.’

Now we are ready to see how generous people program themselves for success. Generous people are grateful for what they have and, unlike Mary, often think to themselves, “I have more than I need.” Their subconscious then interprets that as “I WANT to have more than I need. Then it works feverishly behind the scenes making sure they always have more than they need. Thus, generous people unknowingly program themselves for success. This is an example of the truth in the adage “Virtue is it’s own reward.” And generous people also discover the more they give, the less they need. No wonder they are such happy people.

A few days ago, a woman told me about the time she was waiting in line at the airport. Ahead of her was an elderly woman who was irritable, vociferously complaining, and upsetting all those around her. The woman went on to explain that she stepped out of line, went to a souvenir shop, and bought a small teddy bear. She then went to the elderly lady and said, “It looks like you are having a difficult day. Here’s a little companion that may cheer you up.” The elderly lady broke down in tears, saying that no one had ever been so kind to her. Imagine how good BOTH of them felt.

Up until this point, I’ve written about giving money or things, but very often the greatest gifts of all are free. After all, people are starving for recognition, acceptance, praise, encouragement, and a welcoming smile, which is all in our power to give at no cost to ourselves. What greater gift can we give than ourselves? And that’s exactly what we give when we willingly and cheerfully spend time with others.

All religions encourage its members to practice charity. But charity sometimes is reduced to a ritual. That is, we give because we are commanded to give, but that type of sterile giving is devoid of joyfulness. True giving flows from one’s heart and is nothing less than love of one’s neighbor. Although it is possible to give without loving, it is impossible to love without giving. When we give others the gift of our company, we are giving them bits of our life, and it is in giving our life that we find it. For when we give of ourselves, we discover meaning, purpose, and joyfulness.

Every time we perform one good deed, we perform two. For in addition to our good deed, we also give the gift of a good example, inspiring others to do likewise and making the world a better place. When we give to others, let our goal be to forget what we gave, but when we receive from others, may we never forget. And choosing to be generous helps us even more than it helps others. Also, if we find it difficult to part with our cherished possessions, it means they own us, rather than the other way around.

The number of homeless people and beggars seems to be increasing in large cities, and they are often viewed as pests. Suppose you were approached by two people asking for money. One is scruffy, unkempt, smelly, and vulgar; the other is neat, mild-mannered, and polite. If you were going to give to one of them, which one would it be? This is not a test. There is no right or wrong answer because giving to either is equally generous. But if it were me, I would give it to the scruffy, unkempt, smelly, and vulgar one because he is the one least likely to receive help, and therefore in most need of it. Similarly, when I adopted a cat from the animal shelter, I picked the most unlovable one. After all, handsome, friendly cats wouldn’t need my help, others would be happy to adopt them. If we’re going to help, why not help those most in need?

When it comes to beggars in the street, an argument could be made that we should not give them any money because they will just use it to buy liquor or drugs. You see, the argument continues, by giving them money, you are enabling them, encouraging them to continue their addiction. If you really loved them, the argument concludes, you wouldn’t support their addiction.

But how can we know how the beggar will use the money? I have given money thinking it would probably be wasted on booze, only to see the person I gave the money to rush into a fast food restaurant to buy a sandwich. Of course, the opposite has also happened. I have been asked, in the most convincing manner, for money to buy food, and as soon as they got the money, they ran off to buy liquor. But since I can’t be sure of the intentions of beggars, I prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Besides, even if it were certain that the money would be spent on alcohol, giving money might be the right thing to do. Perhaps, the individual asking for a handout is feeling suicidal, and if he cannot raise any money, may commit suicide. But if he gets some money for whiskey, at least he will be able to cope with life for another day. And, who knows? That extra day he has been given may be the day he turns his life around.

My earlier question about which beggar, neat or scruffy, you would give money to was not a test. But now I have a test for you. It is in the form of a story. After the story I will ask you a question. Answer it in your mind, and I will make a few comments about your answer.

Imagine you live in an apartment building. It is a beautiful Sunday morning and you decide to take a short walk down the street to visit a popular coffee shop. You leave your building and head for the coffee shop when, suddenly, a large flower pot comes hurtling down to the ground, landing in front of you, smashing to smithereens, just one inch from your toes. Your body is shaking as you realize that only a few inches separated you from life or death. You step further away from your building and look up, trying to figure out what happened.

“Aha! Now I know!” you say to yourself. You are looking at the balcony of Mrs. Benson. She lives on the seventh floor, just below you. Although not officially friends, you know her and always greet her when you meet in the elevator or lobby of the building. Mrs. Benson loves flowers, many of which she bought from the flower shop down the street. Obviously, the flower pot that just missed killing you was too close to the edge of her balcony and came toppling down.

Here’s the question. Now that you know you were nearly killed by Mrs. Benson’s flower pot, what do you do? Stop and think about that for a moment. In order not to distract you, I will leave a gap between my question and my comments. My comments about the flower pot story will appear at the very end of the article.

Thankfully the world doesn’t have to depend on millionaires for help because there are so few of them. It is ordinary people like you and me that make the biggest difference, so never underestimate the importance of your good deeds. And don’t forget to love and be kind to yourself as well.

I’ll end with the lyrics of “Let me be a little kinder” by Glen Campbell

Let me be a little kinder
Let me be a little blinder
To the faults of those about me
Let me praise a little more
Let me be when I am weary
Just a little bit more cheery
Think a little more of others
And a little less of me

Let me be a little braver
When temptation bids me waver
Let me strive a little harder
To be all that I should be

Let me be a little meeker
With the brother that is weaker
Let me think more of my neighbor
And a little less of me

Let me be when I am weary
Just a little bit more cheery
Let me serve a little better
Those that I am strivin’ for

Let me be a little meeker
With the brother that is weaker
Think a little more of others
And a little less of me

Here are my comments about the flower pot story. If you called the police, complained to Mrs. Benson, or did anything else out of anger, you are perfectly normal and behaved as most people would.

But if you went to the flower shop to buy a replacement flower pot and flower, gave it to Mrs. Benson, explaining that one of her favorite flower pots lies destroyed on the sidewalk below, and let her know that fortunately no one was killed, but if something similar happens again, someone may die.

So, since neither of you want an innocent person to be killed in a flower pot accident, you offer to inspect all flower pots, tightly securing any that are loose. If you have done some or all of these things, congratulations, you are truly generous!