March 23, 2014

Impulsive Generosity

What if every time you had a generous impulse you followed it?

For many of us, generous impulses come up relatively frequently (“They said not to bring anything, but I’ll pick up a bottle of wine,” “I wonder if my mom’s still sick, I’ll call to see how she’s doing” “I could pick up the tab for both of us”). However, our generous thoughts are often immediately followed by reasons to not follow through, such as “I don’t have time” or “I can’t afford it” and sometimes by stingy reasons like “Well, what has she done for me lately?”

Last week I went to a talk by American Buddhist teacher Joseph Goldstein. One of his topics was the impact of generosity on personal happiness and quality of life. He told us that about a year ago, he decided on a new policy: every time he had a generous impulse followed by a non-generous reaction, he would simply watch the non-generous         thought--without judging the thought or himself--and then return to the original impulse and follow through. He said that, without question, this practice had substantially increased the joy and happiness in his life (and probably, the joy and happiness of others).

What would it be like to try this? 

In the past month, I had several generous impulses that I didn't follow through: “I should bring a baptism gift for my niece” followed by “She's two months old, she won't know the difference” and “I should offer to babysit for my friend's birthday so he can go out with his wife" followed by “If they need babysitter, they'll ask me.” When I look back at these instances, my reasons for not following through seem silly, untrue, or workable, and I regret my decision. 

In contrast, I can think of several instances when I did follow through on generous impulses: “I'll email my colleague to see how her PhD defence went" and "I could get my friend a copy of that book we were talking about” and it felt great. The urge to not follow through still came up ("I'm busy right now" "He'll probably order it online himself") but I did it anyway.

Think of the last time you had a generous impulse and followed through. How did it feel? What was the impact on the recipient of your generosity--and on you?

1 comment:

  1. Loved this post. Thank you for sharing. I have been thinking a lot about generosity recently, especially after reading Adam Grant's Give and Take and learning more about Buddhism. Just imagine a world where everyone followed through on their generous impulses...