What Is Generosity? (And How to Be a More Generous Person)
Simple ways to be more generous to others.
Posted February 4, 2019 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
Generosity is the act of being kind, selfless, and giving to others. Despite being an act that is done to benefit others' well-being, generosity also paradoxically increases our well-being. So being generous is a fantastic way to improve your mental health and well-being. Not sure how to do it? Read on to discover how to be a more generous person.
Why generosity is good for you
Generosity is a good thing for our mental health and well-being because when we give to someone we care about, we make it more likely for them to give to us, making us more likely to give to them, and so on. As a result, regions of our brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust light up, making us feel all warm and gooey inside.
Why generosity is exponential
When it comes to improving our happiness and well-being (not sure how well you are? Take this well-being quiz), generosity is a good choice because it has a ripple effect. If someone else sees us do something kind or generous, it actually makes them more likely to be generous too. Even saying a simple, “Thank you,” can inspire both of you, and those watching, to be more generous. This is how generosity creates a ripple effect, helping us feel happier and less lonely.
So what stops us? Why aren’t we all just generous all the time?
What are the precursors to becoming a more generous person?
It turns out that building positive thinking skills is an important precursor to getting the most we can out of generosity. Why? Because positive emotions—like gratitude, joy, or awe—make us more likely to give. The happier we feel when we give, the more likely we are to give to others again in the future. And the more grateful we are, in general, the more we enjoy the experience of witnessing other people benefiting from our gifts. So if we're having a hard time being more generous, we can benefit from developing our positive thinking skills.
What stops us from being generous people?
Lucky for us, it’s our default to be generous. But, we can accidentally override our natural inclinations to give it by over-relying on the “thinking” parts of our brains. Instead of following our natural impulse to be kind, we may come up with reasons for why shouldn’t give—maybe we want to buy something for ourselves or we are afraid of not having enough. But if our goal is happiness (either for ourselves of others), that’s a big mistake. We feel happier giving to others than spending money on ourselves. So try to overcome fear of not having enough, which can stop you from being a more generous person.
How do we become a more generous person?
Once we are open to trying to become more generous (either to increase our own happiness or the happiness of others) how might we do it? We could give gifts on holidays, to acknowledge accomplishments, or just because we felt like it (that’s my favorite time to give a gift). We can also practice random acts of kindness—for example, by leaving a kind note for a co-worker, emailing a family member to tell them you're grateful for something they did, or buying lunch for a friend.
How to make generosity more impactful
To make giving even more rewarding, focus on giving in ways that make a positive impact in someone else’s life (not just your life). The more we believe that what we give will be valuable or useful to others, the better it feels. And the more we know about how the receiver will use the gift, the more we enjoy giving. We really do want to know not only that we are making a difference, but how we are making a difference. So give thoughtfully and intentionally. It just feels better—both to us and to the gift recipient.
Learn more about how to build your well-being here.
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Nelson, S Katherine, Matthew D Della Porta, Katherine Jacobs Bao, HyunJung Crystal Lee, Incheol Choi, and Sonja Lyubomirsky. 2015. "‘It’s up to you’: Experimentally manipulated autonomy support for prosocial behavior improves well-being in two cultures over six weeks." The Journal of Positive Psychology 10 (5):463-476.
Nook, Erik C, Desmond C Ong, Sylvia A Morelli, Jason P Mitchell, and Jamil Zaki. 2016. "Prosocial conformity: Prosocial norms generalize across behavior and empathy." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 42 (8):1045-1062.