Why Give? The paradox of generosity

Published by Selwyn on

Why Give? 
The paradox of generosity

“My bounty is as boundless as the sea, The more I give to thee, the more I have” 

– Romeo & Juliet


These words, from one lover to another, express a core conviction of the Give Better vision: by giving, we receive. 

It is, as people are quick to recognise, a truth common to many religious and wisdom traditions. Many will hear in those words a loose paraphrase of Jesus’ teaching: “it is more blessed to give than to receive”; or as Eugene Peterson’s The Message puts it, “you’re far happier giving than getting”.  The sentiment is also echoed in an ancient Hebrew proverb which reads: “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but ends up impoverished”. The Buddha likewise taught “giving brings happiness at every stage of its expression”, and a Hindu proverb insists that “they who give have all things; they who withhold have nothing”.  I could go on.  

We might think the prevalence of this wisdom across time and culture indicates something about its truthfulness; and, of course, many of us also recognise its validity within the experiences of our own lives.  

But, in their wonderful book The Paradox of Generosity, Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson take the reader through a tour de force of scientific research supporting the insights of these great sages. 

They present a compelling case for two strange paradoxes inbuilt within our human experience. The first is that generosity is good for you: the more you give (of your money, time, or energy) the better off you are. You are, to a statistically significant degree, happier, healthier and more fulfilled. The second paradox stands in ironic tension with the first: despite these demonstrable benefits, relatively few people are especially generous. 

Their research is thorough and careful, drawing extensively from a wide range of scientific studies and writings. Happily for us, their findings cohere powerfully with Give Better’s mission of empowering young kiwis to give more, save more, and enjoy more. 

We are led to ask a question pregnant with possibilities: What if, for most of us (myself included) there is considerable untapped happiness lying in wait behind a few simple decisions? Simple decisions, throughout each day and each week, to spend a little less on things we don’t really want, and won’t bring us much joy; and then to give some of that money instead. 

What a compelling reason to try out the Give Better challenge! As we like to say about Give Better around here: it’s better for others, and it’s better for you too. So what do you have to lose? 

I’ll finish with Christian and Hilary’s enticing prose:

“Generosity is paradoxical. Those who give, receive back in turn. By spending on ourselves for others’ well being, we enhance our own. In letting go of some of what we own, we better secure our own lives. By giving ourselves away, we ourselves move towards greater flourishing. This is not only a philosophical or religious teaching. It is a sociological fact”.

Categories: Our Vision


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