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The Secret of Happiness Might Just Be Generosity

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Stingy people are generally associated with misery and anger. We often see examples of the selfish and miserly. We are easily offended by corporate greed and avarice.

Pure self interest is certainly a default way of living and when under threat we tend to look to ourselves before others.

Also, we hate to be taken advantage of or hoodwinked, so we protect ourselves by holding back.

The funny thing is that we appear to be at our happiest when we are doing just the opposite. I know for myself that I am at my best and happiest when I am in service of something greater than my own needs.

I have also noticed that when I am tackling a really big challenge, the little issues of life (hang nails, parking tickets, paper cuts) appear far less significant. The size of the things I give myself over to does appear to matter more than the size of the things I might give to myself.

People who waste a lot of stuff appear less happy and people who consume too much also appear less happy.

In his marvelous book "Please take one: one step towards a more generous life," Mike Dickson describes a hidden community of homeless people in a wood next to a prosperous English village.

The well off villagers are completely unaware of the group of homeless youth right nearby. On being told of their existence, though their first instinct is one of compassion and working locally, there was a tremendous opportunity to improve everyone's quality of life. We all have this compassionate instinct and yet we often find ourselves working hard to suppress it.

Our fears of being taken to the cleaners -- real or imagined -- certainly explains what stops us from being more generous, in part.

There is also the very real danger that if we are generous in a foolish way we can do more harm than good. Especially if by being generous we inadvertently sacrifice the recipients' dignity.

Yet, the truth is, we can afford to be more generous and if we become more generous in clever ways there is a rich vein of personal happiness and indeed real prosperity (sometimes measured in love rather than money) that opens up to us.

In his book, Mike also tells of his own discovery of his generosity as an access to a better life and offers some great tips for looking at the world through generous eyes. I particularly like the section on "What is Enough?" and the following list of simple things you might consider in that regard:

  • Work out what is actually enough for you! ( Do a family budget - include giving )
  • Offset your lifestyle (Buy trees at sites like WeForest.com)
  • Stop wasting food
  • Drink tap water
  • Ask your local food stores what they do with their surplus stock
  • Maximize your life, not your income
  • Cook your own meals, don't buy ready-made
  • Buy presents that people actually want
  • Think before you shop: do you really need it?
  • Tithe (pick organizations that have a sustainable positive impact, integrity and that grow dignity. Also, act locally. Look for the hidden poverty in your own neighborhood to transform it first.)

Above all, try out generosity yourself and do small local things. Next time you feel down do an anonymous random act of kindness, clean something unexpectedly or remove some litter or leave some spare change in the vending machine and see how you feel.

See how you feel when you give someone else a kind word that they didn't expect.

Be generous with your listening instead of your judgments. I have found that I am at my happiest when I give someone a full and generous listening such that they feel really heard by me.

Nothing brings a smile like a genuine "Thank you!"

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