“For it is in giving that we receive.” – St. Francis of Assisi
It was a gray, cold, foggy morning when I set out for my run today. I had a short run in mind. I thought I would trudge up the hill near my house for two miles, turn around and fly downhill back to my house.
Uphill has not been my friend since my hip injury. Something about shortening my stride, which occurs naturally on a hill, makes my hip hurt. Today was different, though. Running uphill did not cause any pain. I take that as a good omen, a sign of healing and things to come. Traffic was sparse and my mind was free to wander.
I thought about gift giving in this season of generosity. I love to give gifts. Since I have retired, I have the time and mental energy to make notes of potential gifts for my family all year long. I keep my list hidden away in a secret place, then pull it out in November and begin acquiring the items I have listed.
My grandchildren are the most fun to buy gifts for. I actually have to whittle down my list of gifts for them, or my hubby would object to the amount of money spent. They are still at the ages where you can buy a big pile of presents for a relatively small amount of money. When they get older, it seems like the overall volume of their presents decreases as the cost of procuring them increases.
I always look at my mother as my role-model for generosity. Mom was the most generous person I have ever known.
When my family was young, we would sometimes go out with my parents for a casual dinner. We would usually split the bill or take turns paying for the check, but the bills were often not split evenly and my parents took more than their share of turns paying.
As we got older and our budget was not as tight, Bill and I tried to pay more often. My mom would have none of it. She would grab the check out of our server’s hand “It’s my turn,” she would proclaim. “No, Mom,” we would say. “You paid last time. It’s our turn.” There was no arguing with my mom, however. She was as stubborn as she was generous.
It finally became a game that we played each time we went out, a friendly battle of wills. One time, as we entered the restaurant, I cornered our favorite waitress. “Mary,” I said, “here is my credit card. Do not allow my mom to pay the bill. Use this card. Add a 20% tip for yourself. Don’t even bring the check over to the table.”
“Too late!” Mary replied. “Your mom already gave me her credit card. And she gave me a 25% tip.” When it came to a battle of wills, I was no match for my mom.
What is it, I wondered, that inspires generosity in us? Why does it feel so good to give something to another person?
Psychologists have determined that, in general, we get more pleasure from giving gifts than receiving them. In fact, in one study reported in Scientific American, subjects were found to be generous even in situations when the test subjects would never again encounter the recipient of their generosity and no one (not even the researchers) could tell whether individual subjects had been generous or not.
Generosity, it turns out, is hardwired deep into our psyches. Not only is giving part of human nature, but the meaning of the gift to the recipient is also factored into the decision to be generous. In other words, thoughtless gifts don’t count.
Being generous makes us feel good about ourselves; it makes us happier, more optimistic, and can even be a predictor of a good marriage.
Gift giving, however, is not always entirely altruistic. There is often a subtle implicit contract when gifts are given. Gift givers frequently want something in return. That “something” could come in the form of increased social standing; the better you give, the better you look. It could come from expected reciprocity; when you give, you also expect to receive. Giving sometimes involves complicated social interactions. Miscalculations can cause embarrassment, frustration, and disappointment.
I think, however, that even though we may unconsciously have selfish expectations when we are generous, it is still much better to practice generosity than to be miserly. Generosity forces us to be empathetic. Givers put themselves in the place of the receiver and vicariously experience the pleasure of receiving. It’s a natural depression-fighter that improves your sense of purpose and enhances relationships.
Being generous is something that we are called to do by a magnanimous God. The abundance of wholly gratuitous beauty in the world is a sign of God’s benevolence. Our generosity is a reflection of His.
He makes an additional request, in regards to generosity, however. He asks us to be cheerful in our giving, not grudging. He appeals to us to give freely, joyfully, lovingly.
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9: 6 – 7.
Yes, it is my hope that I can always be a cheerful giver. Just like my mom.
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