People acquire possessions for convenience or pleasure, which is fine, but some people acquire possessions to gain a feeling of substance. These people choose their car, their watch, their furnishings . . . carefully.
What might it say about you if you could give your car, or watch, away? It would mean you could handle the idea of not having it.
Having the capacity to willingly part with our possessions, our money, our time, frees us. We become confident we could handle any material loss in our life. After all, we can’t fear losing something if we are prepared to give it away.
‘. . . by giving away a portion of what you earn, you are teaching your brain that you have more than enough. You’ll be beyond scarcity, and that belief system alone will change your life.’
Anthony Robbins, from his book, ‘Awaken the Giant Within’.
Having the capacity to give things away means that it’s not just the fear of losing our possessions that evaporates; we also lose the fear of being diminished. In reality that car, the watch, the furnishings . . . don’t adequately establish who we are. When we learn we can handle not having those things we find we still have substance. And it’s a substance we like.
I’m not suggesting you give those things away. I wouldn’t give mine away. I’m suggesting we develop the capacity to do so. How? By practising generosity. Being generous allows us to become less fearful of losing what we have. When it feels okay to give, we feel more secure. Paradoxically, if we feel we can handle being diminished, the more whole we feel. And we are adding to our inner authority.
Further, an act of generosity tells the recipient that they are valued. That builds a connection between you and that person, and with humanity itself. It helps satisfy our need for connection, our deep need to belong.
‘Giving to someone you don’t know may be less immediately rewarding, but it expresses your awareness that other human lives matter, and that the extent to which they matter is not determined by their proximity or usefulness to you, or your intimacy with them.’
It doesn’t stop there. Once we learn it’s okay to give, that we won’t bleed away, that we won’t be diminished, we can become more generous of ourselves. By that I mean: we become more open with our feelings and thoughts when speaking with people, and become more trusting of them. In turn, people become more trusting of us. So, again we add to that feeling of being connected, that deep need to belong.
And, when we realise we can be open with others and handle it, we become more confident in ourselves. With less to hide we feel safer, and add to our resilience.
Aim to be generous of spirit as well. Let go your expectations of how other people should be. Let them be.
In short, practise generosity when you can, to build up a feeling of abundance. Don’t be a mug about it: use commonsense and wisdom when giving away money and possessions. Begin with the little things: things you no longer need.
The more generous you are the easier it becomes. The feeling that ‘whatever happens you will handle it’ grows, as does your core happiness.
‘People who fear can’t give. They are imbued with a deep-seated sense of scarcity in the world, as if there wasn’t enough to go around. Not enough love, not enough money, not enough praise, not enough attention, simply not enough.’
Q. ‘If you truly believed what you say you would give everything away.’
That’s not how it works. I enjoy the pleasure and comfort my possessions give me. Pleasures are an important part of my life. The point is: if I were forced to give everything away, or if I were to lose it all, then although I would be considerably inconvenienced I would not be shattered by the experience. Having that confidence helps me feel resilient.
Q. ‘I tried being generous but I don’t feel any different. I feel worse. It feels like a chunk has been taken out of me. I do feel diminished.’
Don’t expect to feel good immediately. Just give enough to stretch your boundaries a little. The more often you do it the easier it becomes. Then the confidence comes: the knowledge that you can handle going without. It’s liberating.
Situation 1: Someone knocks on your door with a genuine offer. You can either:
(i) be given a new car worth $40,000, no strings attached. Or,
(ii) be given a second-hand car that you know for certain is in good mechanical condition, worth $3,000, and $37,000 will be given to a charity that will ensure 200 blind people in a Third World country can see again.
Which option will you choose?
When you are ready to buy a car, what choice will you make?
Situation 2: Here is a question being made redundant by ebooks, but the point of it still applies:
There are countless books layered with dust in bookcases throughout the world. People keep them for decades without opening them, hoping to one day get around to reading them. Or, they have read the book and like it so much they don’t want to part with it. Either way, those books are wasted.
If everyone disposed of their wasted books – for example, sold them to second-hand book stores – a billion books would become available and could finally be read. Genre bookshops would spring up. All of us could finally find that book we have been searching for.
To possess something and to not use it, while someone else wants it, is theft.
My second question: Why do you prefer to let such books sit in your bookcase for years, rather than let someone else enjoy them?
Is your reason a good one?
‘Generosity can be a little gesture, like feeding someone’s parking meter . . . It might be treating a friend to lunch for no reason other than ‘just because’, or taking the time to really listen to an elderly relative telling you their favourite story again. Sometimes being generous is as simple as giving someone the benefit of the doubt and trusting that however things may feel right now, like you, they are probably just doing the best they can.’
Domonique Bertolucci, The Happiness Code
‘We might begin by feeling, “I will give this much and no more,” or, “I will give this object if I am appreciated enough for this act of giving.” But as we come to these places that bind or confine us, we learn to see through them, realising that they are transparent. They have no solidity; they do not have to hold us back. And so we go beyond them. We extend our limits continually outward, creating a deeply composed expansiveness and spaciousness of mind.’
Print this page, and as you complete each task, tick it, and observe how you feel. When you have completed every task mail your effort to Norway.
Please, please: before doing this exercise, please first consult the people you’re living with.
1. Be generous with your money.
(i) Send a few dollars to a charity.
(ii) Buy raffle tickets for a fundraiser. (Or sell the tickets.)
(iii) Buy a friend a treat for no reason.
2. Be generous with your possessions.
(i) Give away the books you won’t read again. (Or sell them and give the money away.)
(ii) Give away toys you no longer use. (Children, ask your parents first.)
(iii) If you are a collector, give an item to a fellow collector who would like it.
3. Be generous of spirit. (Be gracious)
(i) When new neighbours come to the street, knock on their door and welcome them.
(ii) When someone inadvertently offends you, let them get away with it.
(iii) Make sandwiches and give them to a homeless person. (Not any old sandwiches; make sure they’re delicious.)
4. Be generous with your time.
(i) Help out a neighbour and don’t let yourself be paid for it.
(ii) Children, give your parents a freebie. If they normally pay you to do something, do it for free. Tell them, ‘This one is on me.’
(iii) Participate in a cause such as ‘Clean Up Australia Day’.
(iv) If you’re good at schoolwork, or in the office, spend time helping a person who isn’t. (And deal with your impatience.)
(v) Listen to a lonely person talk about their life.
5. Be generous to yourself.
(i) Parents: do you have silverware or crockery that is used rarely? If so, use it, every day. Allow yourself to experience the pleasure.
(ii) Are there other items in your house too beautiful or too expensive to use? Could you handle it if they were broken? If so, bring them out and use them. Enjoy them! Yes, those items will break, and when they do, shrug. Thank it for being so beautiful and for being such a pleasure to use. Then chuck the remnants in the bin, and let it go.
If you’re a parent reading this: Tim O’Connor of UNICEF Australia, offers a few tips on how to raise generous kids. (These tips were found in a body+soul website.)
(i) When considering making a donation, include your children in the conversation. Which organisation should you consider donating towards?
(ii) Encourage kids to learn about different problems people have, and get them thinking about the organisations that offer support.
(iii) Talk to your children about their pocket money. What do they want to buy now, what do they want to save for? What would they like to donate to charity?
(iv) Offer to match what the kids give to charity.
(v) If the kids donate to a charity, take a family visit to the charity to see how the recipients benefit. This could impact strongly on your kids.
(vi) Give your time. Join a working bee or work in the school’s tuck shop. Many local charities need volunteers. How can your kids help?