We often think of generosity as a personality trait: you’re either generous, or you’re not.
The truth is that generosity is a practice. It is something that you can cultivate in your life over time. Like any habit. Even better, practicing generosity offers a wealth of opportunities for learning about yourself, the people around you, and the world.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to practicing generosity that I can recommend. It may take some experimenting to find the strategies and styles that best fit your personality and lifestyle.
But what I can tell you is that practicing generosity can have a large impact on how you view your life and the choices you make every day. The lessons you learn from giving are valuable. They can make life so much better, not only for the individuals you set out to help but also for you!
Lesson 1: Generosity Isn’t Just About Money
Most people’s first association with generosity is making monetary donations to a cause. This strategy is certainly an effective one — charitable organizations rely on funds to accomplish many of their goals.
However, there are so many other ways to practice generosity in your life. For example, consider ways that you can be generous with your time, your possessions, your empathy, and your talents.
Maybe you don’t have much money to spare this month, but you can spend an afternoon helping someone paint their new home. Maybe you are on a strict budget, but can lend your car to a neighbor while theirs is in the shop. Or maybe you can offer to watch someone’s children for a few hours so that they have a chance to get some errands done.
It’s easy to think that you can’t be generous without having extra cash on hand, but free acts of generosity can sometimes be even more meaningful and valuable to an individual or organization in need.
Volunteer Your Voice With VocaliD
Donate your voice to those who use assistive or augmentative communication devices with VocaliD. Simply record yourself reading key phrases and answer some questions about your age, gender, and accent to be matched with someone looking for a personalized voice for their speech technology.
Lesson 2: Generosity Makes You Happier and Healthier
There is an entire body of research that explores the relationship between generosity and happiness. Many studies clearly link the two, showing that volunteering can increase self-esteem, increase one’s sense of purpose, and decrease symptoms of depression. Physically, generosity can lead to decreases in stress, chronic pain intensity, and mortality while promoting higher levels of functioning.
Other studies suggest that when a giver sees a clear link between their actions and a positive outcome for someone in need, positive hormones like oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine may be released. Generosity can even extend your life expectancy.
When you’re able to give part of yourself in a selfless manner, the potential windfall can be significant, and it all comes relatively easily.
The act of giving can also serve as a reminder to be thankful for what you have. Gratitude is a key concept in happiness research, and recognizing opportunities to be grateful for things, experiences, and people can make a big difference in your emotional state.
Offer Your Professional Skills With UN Volunteers
The United Nations Volunteers program features many different opportunities to volunteer online for international groups. Participate in projects by performing research, translation, design, advocacy, or more! No matter your skill set, you should be able to quickly find a cause that fits your abilities and interests.
Lesson 3: Generosity Is Easier Than You Think
Another common myth about being generous is that it is going to be a difficult process for the giver. It’s easy to imagine situations where you are guilted into donating more money than you can afford, or being forced to give up a prized heirloom to benefit someone else.
Try looking at generosity as something that you get to do instead of something that you should do. Practicing generosity can teach you that some of the best ways to give are also fun and enjoyable!
Give Through Gaming With FreeRice
Practicing generosity can be as easy as playing a fun game online that benefits charities. FreeRice, is one example of this type of game. For every vocabulary question you answer correctly, FreeRice donates 10 grains of rice to the World Food Programme.
Lesson 4: Generosity Is a Mindful Process
Mindfulness is all about bringing your full attention to the present moment, and immersing yourself in the experience.
Practicing generosity in your everyday life quickly teaches you how important it is to be mindful of your actions and opportunities. The more aware you are in each situation, the more likely you will recognize an opportunity to give.
Taking some time to give in a thoughtful way can maximize the other benefits of generosity. Give to organizations, individuals, and causes that you are personally connected. This can be more rewarding than those you don’t know anything about.
Reading for Others
Volunteer to record books for people with vision loss through organizations like Calibre.org.uk and LearningAlly.org. This is another great way to make a difference from the comfort of your home while getting to read books and practice your voice acting skills!
LearningAlly also needs readers for textbooks. The material may be a little dry, but you will be benefitting youth who struggle with reading comprehension in school.
Lesson 5: Generosity Builds Meaningful Connections
Nothing brings people together like generosity. It is the simplest way to bond with people who care about the same things you do, even if you start out as strangers. Research has shown that giving improves cooperation and helps people view each other more positively.
Everyday generosity also has a huge potential for deepening close friendships. It is hard to beat relationships built on a foundation of mutual generosity and the trust that comes from knowing the other person has your back.
Once you become used to giving, it might be hard to receive from others. But it’s important to accept their generosity as well — relationships aren’t balanced or healthy if one person is always the giver and the other is always the receiver. Both parties in a relationship should be able to experience the benefits of giving!
Donate Used Electronics to Local Organizations
Find new owners for your old electronic gadgets through local charity organizations. Enter “Your City” + “electronic donations to charity” to find options benefitting your community. Because physical objects are involved, you’re likely to have better luck with a nearby organization. Some examples include: reBOOT (Canada), Goodwill (North America), The Cristina Foundation (U.S.), and IT For Charities’ list of U.K. organizations accepting technological donations.
Lesson 6: Generosity Has Ripple Effects
One of the best lessons that can be learned from generosity is that its effects reach farther than you could ever intend. A Harvard study found that a single person acting in a generous way influences observers to behave generously later. In turn, those who observe the observers are also more likely to be generous.
So a single act of generosity on your part can have a significant impact on more people than just your intended recipient. The ripple effects can reach dozens or even hundreds of people, many of whom you may never know about.
Volunteer Outside of Your Comfort Zone
A wide variety of organizations looking for online volunteers can be found at VolunteerMatch.org by filtering your search to “virtual volunteering.” This organization often lists needs requiring specific skill sets (e.g. law, writing, accounting, etc.) that may fit perfectly with your offline experiences, or may be a learning opportunity!
Other organizations are looking for people to share stories about their experiences with mental health, mentor youth, or to come up with social media strategies for their cause.
Generosity as a Way of Life
Making the conscious decision to practice generosity every day can feel daunting at first. But once you begin, the benefits of your choices can make it difficult to stop.
There are some amazing opportunities out there that allow you to give back in important and tangible ways. And you can accomplish these tasks from the comfort of your home. What do you have to lose?
How do you practice generosity in your life? What are the best lessons you have learned? Let me know in the comments!
Image Credits: zffoto/Shutterstock