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As the past few weeks and months have shown, the United States currently run rampant with problems. Racism, violence, misogyny, and bigotry are impossible to ignore, easy to diagnose, and difficult to cure. I believe these problems, though significant and important on their own, may be traced back to a larger problem: selfishness. And I believe there is a cure for selfishness: outrageous giving and generosity.
Undeniably, selfishness is woven deeply into the fabric of America. It may even be part of our human core, though the jury is still out on the nature of human genetics. Perhaps long-standing capitalism has sewn and grown its fair share of selfishness over several decades. It is what leads us to work harder and harder to amass more for ourselves. The problem is that many people have bought into the lie which trumpets “more for me equals less for you.”
Yet, our internal selfishness is often no match for our hearts’ desires to show empathy toward others. This is evident in the small things, like holding doors for others, and the big things, like the collective $358 billion in charitable giving by Americans in 2014.
Call me an optimist, but I believe that selfishness and empathy can co-exist when applied in healthy doses. Most of us, myself included, tend to be naturally good at looking out for own best interests. Thinking outside ourselves requires deliberation and conscious effort; actually acting on behalf of others requires a steady dose of humility to boot.
Self-Benefits of Giving and Generosity
For the person of even average ambition, striking a balance between ambition and contentment is an ongoing challenge. I face this battle every day, and I lose more often than I win. I know that more prestige, money, and belongings will not provide the lasting happiness which I seek, but it doesn’t stop me from trying to attain it in this manner anyway.
In The Legacy Journey, Dave Ramsey writes, “Giving is the antidote for selfishness. It’s the hallmark character quality of those who win with money.” I believe Ramsey is correct, as giving leads to humility and contentment. In the act of giving, the giver admits that she has enough, that the time or resources being given are needed more by someone else. It is empowering to realize this truth because it supports action. When we give to others and realize that we no longer miss what has been generously given, we are one step closer to contentment. With contentment comes the ability to manage finances with wisdom and restraint.
Contentment is not the only self-benefit of giving. In my experience, giving and generosity ultimately help us grow to be better receivers. As Arthur Miller wrote,
A closed hand cannot receive. The phrase has a Biblical ring, and a Biblical wisdom that applies profoundly to everyday human affairs. The man who will not share himself with his neighbors receives little friendship in return. . .
. . . To be sower of seeds, a man must open his hand. He must do this, clearly, before he can reap. And the process doesn’t stop there. To possess knowledge or wisdom, he must open his mind. If he wants to receive love, he must offer it – and to do this he will need an open heart.
Look around and you will see the truth of these five words shining everywhere. A closed hand cannot receive – partly because it is shut, and nothing can get in. But mostly because it has nothing to give.
While giving requires humility, receiving may require even more. I naturally prefer giving to others rather than receiving, but as I have reflected on the reasons why this is so, pride is the only answer.
Giving and generosity are good not only for mental health but also physical well-being. According to several studies, they also can lower blood pressure, improve self-esteem, decrease stress, and boost life expectancy.
Giving Benefits Others
It seems so obvious that giving generously to others directly benefits others, but this is often the last benefit we consider when choosing to give.
Giving to others goes far beyond financial benefits. Hope and faith in others have a more lasting impact, in many cases, even after the money has been spent. The emotions which result from acts of giving, for both the giver and the receiver, are valuable in ways which cannot be measured in isolation. The following video is a poignant reminder.
A Call to Give
During this fragile time, in which holiday spirit and cheer may fail to counterbalance a climate of fear and worry, humble yourself and demonstrate giving and generosity to your fellow man. Increase your annual holiday donations. Volunteer your time and talents to serve those who are less fortunate. Foster goodwill by paying for the coffee for the driver behind you in the Starbucks line. At our cores, we are not much different from one another. When you give, you better yourself, improve your financial management, and close the gaps which divide us all.
How do you give to others? How will you be generous this holiday season? How do you feel your giving and generosity benefit others?