By Jan Bruce
The evidence is in. Generosity literally makes you happier and healthier, whether you give money, time, or even just attention. As researchers from the University of Notre Dame explain in their new book, The Paradox of Generosity, people who give in one way or another report feeling very happy and are more likely to be in excellent health. The researchers describe generosity as an "upward spiral," where the more you give, the better you feel, and the more you give, and the better you feel.
But the tendency is to get stingy can start to take hold, particularly when you are feeling that you don't have enough: time, resources, energy (take your pick!). And while I believe you absolutely must say no to some things so that you can say yes to others, the problem comes if you stay stuck and clenched, unable to give or grow. That's when you start sliding down the spiral, not up.
Getting unstuck starts with focusing on where you feel the most resistance or fear about spending your resources. It helps to look beyond the typical means of generosity, like charitable donations or volunteering. Start closer to home, with the thoughts that make you shortchange others -- and yourself -- day to day. As the researchers told The New Republic, "Mostly [people aren't more generous] because what's going on in their heads."
Here are three ways to heal with your inner cheapskate and ride the upward spiral again.
1. Cheapskate Thought: "I've worked a long day. I don't feel like talking right now."
Unfortunately, it's your closest circle of intimates -- spouse, mother, friend -- who often get short shrift when you're feeling lousy. Fact is, your strongest relationships didn't happen because you felt like it, but because you committed to them. Rather than close off after a hard day, try opening up and listening to the person you love who may need to be heard today. Two things will happen: One, you will get a momentary break from your own problems, and two, strengthen your relationship so that when you need someone, that person is there.
Read more about how giving your undivided attention reduces stress.
2. Cheapskate Thought: "I don't know why I should spend my time helping someone when no one helped me."
The idea of sharing what you've learned can feel like giving away hard-won wisdom as a handout. But the fear that makes you pull back from opportunities to guide someone else is one that diminishes quickly when you experience how powerful mentoring can be. Everyone learns the hard way. What you experience first hand the appreciation of someone who is eager to learn from you, you begin to recognize your own worth and value -- and what a difference it can make in the world.
3. Cheapskate Thought: "I don't need to tip the full 20 percent. After all, I didn't love the meal."
If you've ever gone searching for reasons why you don't have to give as much as you know you should, check that urge to cling to cash and ask why. Did the server show blatant disregard for you or your meal, and would not tipping send a message? Or are you more concerned that you're spending too much? Maybe the issue is that going out for a meal at all is the stretch, rather than the quality of the service. That extra dollar or two may well mean more to her than it does you.
Read more about fighting financial stress.
Learn more useful information about stress and your health! Order our book, meQuilibrium: 14 Days to Cooler, Calmer, and Happier, co-authored by meQuilibrium CEO Jan Bruce, Adam Perlman, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, and Andrew Shatté, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer.