What Is The Cost of Generosity? And Can You Afford It?

When I think of what Generosity means to me, my initial reacting was to think of things like donating to a shelter, giving money a local organization, or actually stopping at the street light to give the homeless man some cash on my morning commute to work.  But how do we know how much to give?  How much is too much?  And when we are trying to save every penny we have to get ahead – how do we manage giving away anything a all?  I constantly ask myself these same questions.  Several years ago, when I was in ample amounts of debt, without a singe penny saved, and making enough money to pay for roughly (honestly) 80% of my monthly expenses, being generous was something I still wanted to do in spades.  The mental tole of wagering between whether I continued to be “generous” at the expense of continuing to plummet into financial ruin or seise giving anything to anyone was agonizing.  So, how do answer these questions?   

What is generosity?

Generosity is defined as the quality of being kind and generous.  Or in relation to amounts it can mean the quality or fact of being plentiful.  Great, what does that mean?  Stephen G. Post is the Director of the Center for Medicine Humanities, Compassion Care and Bioethics at New York’s Stony Brook University.  He calls it “The feel-good effects”, stating that giving begin in the brain. It’s called “giver’s glow”.  The response, he says, is triggered by brain chemistry in the mesolimbic pathway, which recognizes rewarding stimuli from volunteering and giving gifts.  “Volunteering moves people into the present and distracts the mind from the stresses and problems of the self.” 

Intuition tells us that giving more to oneself is the best way to be happy. But that’s not the case, according to Dan Ariely, professor of behavioral economics and psychology at Duke University.  Unchecked rudeness can infect the whole office “If you are a recipient of a good deed, you may have momentary happiness, but your long-term happiness is higher if you are the giver,” Ariely said. For example, if you give people a gift card for a Starbucks cappuccino and call them that evening and ask how happy they are, people say they are not happier than if you didn’t give it to them. If you give another group a gift card and ask them to give it to a random person, when you call them at night, those people are happier. 

To be generous or to save?

If you think about the money you spend on others as generosity instead of a waste of money, it starts to feel much more positive.  When this positive spin is taken, as a counter to how disappointed in yourself that you are because of your inability to save, you begin to look at things a little differently.  This is a good thing.  After all, one the most important aspects of financial control that I have learned is that in order to find financial freedom, you must first, find mental tranquility.  Benjamin Graham, author of The Intelligent Investor, and arguably one of the smartest value investors of his time gained immense popularity for his innate sense to evaluate the value of good companies, and his investing disciplines, but he also had an uncanny ability for generosity.  Warren Buffet described Benjamin as having three distinct qualities, one prevailing well above its counterparts.  Generosity.  “The third imperative,” as Warren defined it, “is generosity.”  “Generosity is where he succeeded beyond all others.”  From all this we can deduce that generosity is a good trait and can help shape the world in powerful ways – that just might have the ability to change it – and the people in it.  Though, these points may fly in the face of most money saving tips, the financial connection is to not allow yourself to be afraid to give money generously.  Maintaining great wealth comes with great responsibility.  Keeping all the money you make for yourself is a smart saving strategy, sure, but the adage that money alone cannot buy happiness has truth to it.  The key takeaway here is that while your saving money, making money, and managing all this money don’t be afraid of generosity.  Though, initially, it may not feel like your generosity will grow wealth – it will likely grow your mental well-being.  In the end, your mind has no cost.  Does it?


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