Nephew: Why don’t you have books in your home?
Uncle: I do. Reference books.
Nephew: Yeah, but. Shouldn’t you have heaps of books? An educated mind and all that? I’ve heard it said that if you read a thousand books you get to live a thousand lives.
Uncle: Have you heard of libraries?
Nephew: Yeah, but.
Uncle: Are you going to keep saying ‘yeah, but’? You sound like a frog.
Nephew: I just thought you would have more books, that’s all.
Uncle: To own a book is to be a thief.
Nephew: You say some weird things sometimes. Often, actually.
Uncle: There are countless books layered with dust in bookcases throughout the world. People keep them for years, for decades, without opening them. They hope to one day get around to reading that poetry book, or that classic, so they can feel just a little more cultured. 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.
Nephew: How is that theft?
Uncle: If everyone disposed of their 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.
Nephew: Have you heard of e-books?
Uncle: You see my point though? Why do you think it’s better to let books sit in your bookcase for years, rather than let someone else enjoy them?
Nephew: If everyone thought like you, cities would be clogged with second-hand book shops. With books so easy to obtain, fewer would be published and sold.
Uncle: I guess so. But your question brings up another way to be vulnerable: develop within you the capacity to part with your possessions.
Nephew: The capacity?
Uncle: We all try to establish our identity one way or another, and to some people, owning stuff is their way of establishing their identity. Their possessions help them acquire a feeling of substance. They choose their car, their watch, their furnishings . . . carefully. But what might it say about them if they were able to part with their car, or their watch, or their books?
Nephew: They’re getting divorced?
Uncle: It would mean they could handle the idea of not having it.
Uncle: 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.
Nephew: That makes sense in an insane kind of way.
‘. . . 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’
Uncle: Having the capacity to give things away means it’s not just the fear of losing our possessions which 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.
Nephew: Are you suggesting we give our possessions away?
Uncle: No. I wouldn’t give mine away. I’m suggesting we develop the capacity to do so. It’s the capacity which is important.
Nephew: I still don’t get what you mean.
Uncle: When we practise generosity we become less fearful of losing what we have, and paradoxically, we feel more whole. And we add to our inner authority.
Nephew: Wait. My head is spinning.
Uncle: Further, an act of generosity towards someone in particular tells the person 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.
Nephew: Oh. That.
‘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.’
Uncle: 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.
Uncle: So, again we add to that feeling of being connected, that deep need to belong.
Nephew: Right now I have a deep need for a sandwich.
Uncle: And, when we realise we can be open with others, we become more confident in ourselves. That’s because when we have nothing to hide, we feel safer. And with that feeling of safety comes resilience. So again we add to our 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.’
Nephew: So the lesson is: give our books away?
Uncle: Start parting with the possessions you don’t use. Don’t rely on their existence to give you substance.
Nephew: Can I sell them? Or do I need to give them away?
Uncle: If you can’t bring yourself to give them away then yes, sell them. That will still stretch your boundaries. The more often you do it the easier it becomes. Then the confidence comes: the knowledge that you can handle going without. From that you will gain a feeling of abundance.
‘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.’
Nephew: If you truly believed what you say you would give everything away.
Uncle: 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 benefits me considerably.
Nephew: That comes from having the capacity to give things away?
Nephew: I guess someone who actually did give all their possessions away would be considered eccentric.
Uncle: Aim to be generous of spirit, as well. Let go your expectations of how other people should be. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
Nephew: If we are going to talk about being generous then I have to ask: where’s my sandwich?
Uncle: It’s hiding in various places in the kitchen, not yet assembled. Make me one too, please. Cheese.
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?
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.
If you are under the age of 18 and doing this exercise, ensure you ask your parents’ permission.
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.
‘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