January 23, 2024

The Psychological Benefits of Generosity

By Sydney Kittrell
Identity Development
Mental Health & Wellbeing

You’re having a bad day- you might have spilled your coffee, gotten to work late, it’s raining, you have a mile long to-do list. What do you do to make yourself feel better? Get yourself a treat, of course! The habit of getting a little treat has become an entire culture, with thousands of TikToks with #treatyourself and t-shirts proudly displaying the slogan, “Treat Yourself!” with different images of lattes. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a little treat but I wonder if the power of generosity is underrated. I wonder if there’s an additional way to treat yourself AND boost your day in a minor way. Generosity, giving something of value to others, may be just as helpful, perhaps even more helpful, in boosting your day.

So what exactly is generosity?

It’s easy to put generosity in a box, only seeing generosity as volunteering on a regular basis or giving money to charity. However, generosity is truly anytime you give something to others. This can be as abstract as giving your emotional availability to a friend in distress or as tangible as helping a family member move. Generosity can also look like something as small as holding the door open for a stranger, or as grand as giving a significant amount of money away.

Generosity is inherently social, as it must involve someone else. Anytime we acknowledge our inherent social nature, we can benefit, deepening our connections to others. This sets generosity apart from grabbing a little treat, which can often be a solitary activity.

Benefits of generosity

When we practice generosity, it can provoke an entire personal paradigm shift. We may feel stuck in an overwhelming spiral, believing that our problems are huge, unique, and insurmountable. When we briefly turn our attention away from ourselves and how we can take care of others, we are no longer dwelling on our woes. Caring for someone else may provide a new perspective and when we return to our problems and worries, they may appear a little smaller and less consequential.

Generosity also helps in switching from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset. A scarcity mindset operates as if there will never be enough: I do not have enough time, there is not enough love to go around, and I must try my hardest to get the most of everything that I can. This can lead to anger, resentment, and anxiety. An abundance mindset suggests that there is enough: The amount of love another person receives will not reduce the amount of love I can receive. There is endless opportunity and this perspective leads to gratitude and a sense of peace.

Generosity can be a major confidence builder. When we are generous, the story we tell about ourselves turns into something positive – simply put, we feel good about ourselves when we’re generous. Our critical inner voice struggles to grab onto hurtful comments when the reality is that we spent energy and time investing into someone else. Our self-perception plays into our reputation; others may begin to see you as a generous and kind individual. Both our self-perception and our reputation can further build into a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the expectation becomes the reality.

Generosity has been consistently shown to improve a sense of belonging. The world seems to expand with you when you practice a generous act. There is the social connection and the enhancement of already built relationships. For example, bringing a colleague a cup of coffee on a Monday morning builds that social connection and sending a loved one a kind letter or package strengthens the relationship.

What can I do?

As previously mentioned, it is so easy to put generosity in a box. You may be thinking, “I have no time, I can’t volunteer!” or, “I have no money, I can’t give!” or any variation of those notions. I would gently suggest expanding your view of generosity. Get creative and pay attention to those around you. Perhaps begin with the people you live with and begin looking for little moments and opportunities for generosity. And when others show you generosity, try to accept it! If we aren’t used to being shown kindness and care, it can feel uncomfortable or even scary. We may have an instinct to run. Try to stay put, knowing that you are worthy of generosity.

Interested in further exploring generosity and your well-being? Or maybe it’s hard for you to accept generosity from others? Clinicians at Optimum Joy would love to partner with you and help you towards your goals. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Written By

Sydney Kittrell

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