GENEROSITY ... And the Great 8 Side Effects

Generosity has side effects! We are most accustomed to hearing the words “side effects” used in relation to medications, and the “bad things” that might happen. But generosity has amazingly wonderful side effects!

I am often surprised by what people respond to when they read my blogs. A few weeks ago, I mentioned a little story about an interaction with my dad after my first babysitting job. He told me that successful people save 10% and give away 10%. Then he made clear to me that the 80% they have left goes much further.

In that same blog, I shared that I took $.50 and put it in a drawer to save, and I took $.50 to church and dropped it in the offering plate. It began a journey toward Generosity. I received many comments and questions about the concept. Questions such as… 

• Do you still do that?

• Why 10% to each?

• Does it really make a difference?

In short, yes, I still do it, and I chose 10% because that’s what my dad told me. But of course I didn’t know then that it’s a principal also taught in the Bible. Does it really make a difference? Absolutely!

But I’ve also learned over the years that generosity is a lot more than saving 10% and giving away 10%. For me, generosity is a focus, an attitude, a way of living.

I would love to say that the truth in all this just came to me naturally, but that was not my experience. I had to aspire to this way of thinking and had to work towards it. I chose to do it because the “Masters” with whom I studied modeled this in their everyday lives to all those around them. I found that no matter what their particular expertise was, they all had generosity in common.

  • There are many definitions of generosity.
  •  Freedom from meanness
  •  Freedom from small mindedness or character
  • Quality of being kind
  • Giving abundantly of time, talents, or resources
  • Freedom from pettiness in one’s character

All of these definitions together teach us that generosity has not only to do with giving our money; but also that generosity also applies to our character, our unique gifts, and our talents.

When I speak of generosity, people usually respond by lamenting their limited income or financial abilities. In my life, I have found that being generous with my time, my encouragement, my presence, my strengths and gifts all play together to multiply generosity in both tangible and intangible ways. Best of all, generosity creates so many wonderful side effects! As I have learned over many years in my practice, consistent generosity makes our lives broader and deeper. Here’s some of the positive side effects identified by research:

1. Generosity improves our self-confidence and our self-esteem.

Researchers at Brigham Young University and the University of Missouri, in a study of hundreds of subjects, found that those who were generous had significant improvements in both self-esteem and self-confidence. Although this was true across all types of acts of generosity, the greatest increases occurred when people volunteered to help those less fortunate than themselves. These opportunities included things such as volunteering at a memory care facility, a homeless shelter, or the cancer wing at a children’s hospital.

Later in his life, my dad developed Alzheimer’s. When my mother and I were no longer able to lift him and care for him at home, we were forced to place him in a care facility. I spent years volunteering at this facility. I knew from years of watching this horrible disease in my family that patients were likely to remember songs they had sung in their early lives. So, I would pull patients together into groups and we would sing some of the old songs together. They loved it! For that moment the fog would lift and they would remember the song. Bright smiles would spread across their faces. The light would shine in their eyes once again. Despite the loneliness of many (who had sadly been mostly abandoned by their families), just bringing a moment of joy to them boosted my confidence.

2. Generosity improves our health.

A study at the University of British Columbia found that the generosity effects on hypertension was like that of medication.  Generosity was also found to be a hypertension preventative.

A similar study showed the same results in lowering cholesterol. Statin drugs are more convenient than being generous, but nearly all medications have undesirable side effects. Generosity also has side effects … wonderful ones! 

In addition to benefits for heart health, research has shown that there is a high correlation between greater generosity and lower BMI. Other recent studies have shown that generosity increases the ability to manage physical pain and reduces the symptoms of chronic illnesses and diseases. Generosity has been found to increase our immunoglobin … which boosts our immune system.

If for no other reason, the health benefits alone should be enough for making generosity a consistent and lifelong part of our lives. 

3. Generosity improves our relationships.

My therapy practice is at risk if I teach generosity too effectively! Why? Because research shows that generosity can help heal our relationships.

In 2014, Dr. John Gottman, who has led the most frequent and thorough research on relationships, released some surprising results. For years the top qualities therapists sought to develop in relationships had been things such as good communication and common interests. But Gottman’s study (of thousands of individuals) showed that one of the top three characteristics was generosity. Generosity not just in gifts of money, but gifts of time, of love, of caring, and of presence.

Neuropsychology once again explains a lot of this. Generosity speaks of importance and priority. The day-to-day, practical things WE do to show that SOMEONE ELSE is of significance creates an automatic discharge of oxytocin into OUR bodies. Oxytocin is the neurohormone that creates connection and bonding. Sooo …generosity can help create connection and bonding. Wow!

In our busy and stressful worlds, we often find ourselves “doing just enough to get by.” We tend to do this even in relationships that are important to us. I see this reflected in my office in statements such as, “I told her I loved her last week… why does she need to hear it again?” Or, “I always show my appreciation to him for what he does when I write cards for his birthday, Father’s Day, and other special events. Isn’t that good enough?”

When is it enough? It is enough when it comes from a place of generosity. Being generous each day with the small things. This creates a bonding in relationships that cannot be easily shaken. It’s that little text that they know will come first thing in the morning. It’s that big smile and hug when you walk in the door. It’s that little prayer that they know you will pray for them every evening.

Want healed, rich relationships? Be generous. Be consistently generous.

4. Generosity reduces our stress. 

Research has shown that generosity reduces stress. Conversely, research has also shown that a lack of generosity is associated with higher levels of cortisol. You will recall that cortisol is the stress hormone that can have serious health consequences.

A very large study compared cortisol levels in two very different groups: those that donated money; and those that kept the money for themselves. The results: the more people chose to give, the lesser their cortisol levels; the more they kept, the higher the cortisol levels.

Another study showed that when we practice generosity, our brains are literally triggered to release dopamine’s, which counteract the effects of cortisol.

Perhaps stress reduction strategies should include a healthy dose of generosity.

5. Generosity extends our lifespan.

WHAT? You mean generosity is a part of the fountain of youth? Well according to research, it might very well be!

Studies at the University of Michigan followed almost 3,000 people for 10 years. They found that those who practice generosity had death rates that were 2 1/2 times lower than those who did not practice generosity. Wow.

Another study suggested that those who practice generosity also tend to practice better self-care. These generous souls had an average lifespan at least a decade longer than the average American. (Did you get that??!!)

6. Generosity relieves depression and anxiety.

Interesting new research in neuropsychology helps us understand the correlation between generosity and depression and anxiety. We have long known that increased action in the amygdala (an almond-shaped structure in the temporal lobe of the brain) is associated with both depression and anxiety. New studies show that being generous reduces activity in the amygdala. Research has shown that generosity also creates endorphins that cause us to feel good and that reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Because depression and anxiety are two of my specialties, I often suggest to clients that they should consider volunteering or donating to causes that are meaningful to them. Their response is often resistance. How could they go volunteer when they are so depressed, they can’t seem to get out of bed? Or they are so anxious about driving in traffic, how could they get to the site to volunteer?

I often offer them a money-back guarantee for their session if they will just find a way to do it, just once. Some fail to push themselves forward. But for those who do, I’ve never had to give a refund.

Giving cash to someone in desperate need; or donating time or an old car to a charitable organization, can help provide YOU with immediate relief from depression and anxiety. (Of course, the benefit is often multiplied with counseling, coaching, support groups, or even medications.)

7. Generosity increases our joy quotient and our daily happiness.

Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

For decades, studies have shown that happiness correlates with generosity. In a study published in 2017, researchers found (using MRI’s), that those who were generous had significant increases in happiness. And that the more generosity was practiced, the longer the happiness lasted. Interestingly, the study not only showed the neural link between generosity and happiness, but it determined that the giving did not need to be totally sacrificial in order to create significantly increased levels of happiness for the giver.

In a similar study involving retired individuals, they compared the happiness quotient of those spending time focusing on “having enough” to those who’s focus was on generosity. The happiness level for those focusing on “having enough” was more of a “misery quotient.” For those focused on generosity, the result was significantly higher levels of happiness.

Marketing experts for charities have learned that showing donors the results of contributions (of time and money) creates an emotional connection between the donor and the charity. This connection contributes to the feeling of well-being in the donor and to those working for the charity.

8. Generosity increases our finances.

As I said earlier, I knew that what my dad was teaching me about giving away 10% of my babysitting money was a fundamental teaching in the Bible. I remember when I read it in the Living Bible, something in me came to life. “For if you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you used to give – large or small – will be used to measure what is given back to you.” Luke 6:38. I also love the ending of that verse in The Message bible. It ends with “generosity begets generosity.”

Research has long shown that people who practice generosity regularly show more increases in income than those who don’t. In the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, one of the most telling findings was that people who DO give more when they become richer, also grow wealth faster than those who DO NOT give. This survey also found that more giving doesn’t just correlate with higher income, but is a CAUSE of higher income. In an article published about the survey in Entrepreneur Magazine, the authors said, “Imagine two families that are at dinner and are the same in size, age, race, education, religion, and politics. The only difference is that this year the first family gives away $100 more than the second. Based on the analysis of the SCCBS survey, the first family will, on average, earn $375 more as a result of its generosity.”

Another study at the University of Oregon finds that giving stimulates parts of our brain that are associated with meeting basic needs. This suggests that our brains know that giving is good for us.

Back to my $.50 savings and $.50 donation. At times I’ve heard those who don’t know me well say that I must have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth. The truth is, if I was born with anything in my mouth, it was a plastic spoon! But my dad’s challenge to me was worth more than a silver spoon or gold. It began a journey toward generosity that has made my life rich.

I hope that reading this will inspire you to be generous. With your cash donations … to your church or to a ministry that encourages you; or to a cause you believe in. With your time … to those who are important to you. With your gifts and talents … to those who can be inspired to greatness.

I promise you this… Your generosity will beget generosity!