by Stephanie Ludwig, PhD, MDiv, MA
Director of Spiritual Wellness, Canyon Ranch Tucson
When we’re afraid we can mistakenly perceive, and then believe, that the resources we need for survival are scarce and will become non-existent. We begin to see other people as competitors for those resources rather than collaborators in sharing the plentiful resources available for all.
The world’s spiritual traditions offer a prescription for overriding our fear-based, survival-oriented animal instinct: the practice of generosity. This practice manifests in many ways – compassion, kindness, charity, love, altruism – all of which encourage us to act from the tender heart of our full, interconnected humanness.
The Greater Good Science Center at University of California Berkeley released a 2018 white paper surveying current research on the nature and benefits of generosity. In short, it is a socially beneficial behavior deeply rooted in us, biologically and developmentally. By activating the reward pathways in our brains, generosity promotes both individual and collective survival and the evolution of generous behavior.
Researchers have found that practicing generosity promotes physical and psychological health, greater longevity, increased happiness, higher perceived quality of life, and better quality relationships. In other words, generosity is good for us!
How can we practice generosity with others, especially during times and situations when we could succumb to fear? Options include giving time, effort, material goods, money, talents, attention and emotional support.
These are some concrete actions you might take toward practicing generosity:
- Provide emotional support to a loved one, friend, or neighbor who’s struggling.
- Purchase and deliver food and household goods to a housebound neighbor.
- Volunteer your talent to an organization that speaks to your passion.
- Donate money to a charitable organization providing emergency resources or services.
- Engage in small acts of kindness toward your co-worker or employees.
- Offer your spouse and children undivided, respectful attention.
- Give money to someone facing job loss, illness or other personal hardship.
- Help someone feel loved and cared for by listening to their views or concerns.
- Teach a valuable skill to someone who would benefit from your expertise.
- When you purchase something you want, purchase another for someone in need.
Like fear or anxiety, generosity is contagious. By practicing a generous spirit, we influence the social networks we inhabit. One act inspires another to create a world in which everyone can thrive.