From The Paradox of Generosity, by Eric Metaxas, December 1, 2014, at: www.breakpoint.org
Science confirms what faith tells us: Generosity and happiness go hand in hand.
We’re all familiar with our Lord’s words that it’s “more blessed to give than to receive.” As it turns out, this maxim is not only true as a matter of faith, it’s empirically true, as well. This is the subject of a new book, The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose, by Notre Dame Professor Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson, a doctoral student at Notre Dame.
The book is based on research from Notre Dame’s “Science of Generosity” initiative. As Smith and Davidson write in the introduction, “By grasping onto what we currently have… we lose out on better goods that we might have gained…”
One such good is happiness. We often hear that “money can’t buy happiness.” Whether most Americans actually believe this is debatable. What isn’t debatable is that generous people are more likely to describe themselves as “happy” than people who aren’t generous.
For purposes of their research and the book, the authors define “generous” as giving away ten percent of one’s income. People who do this are nearly half again as likely to say that they have a strong sense of purpose in their lives. The same holds true with what they call “neighborly” and “relational” generosity. People who volunteer are significantly more likely to have a strong sense of life purpose compared to those who don’t.
As Smith and Davidson write, “Giving money, volunteering… being a generous neighbor and friend… are all significantly, positively correlated with greater personal happiness, physical health and a stronger sense of purpose.”
That’s why they can claim that “by failing to care for others, we do not properly take care of ourselves,” and that “It is no coincidence that the word ‘miser’ is related to the word ‘miserable.’”
Think about the most famous literary miser, Ebenezer Scrooge. As his nephew Fred tells his guests, “his offenses carry their own punishment.” Scrooge made himself miserable in this life and he still had Hell to look forward to.
As Smith and Davidson document, generosity is the remedy to the human tendency toward what they call “maladaptive self-absorption.” A friend of mine, who suffers from mood disorders, has found that when he feels most anxious or depressed, praying for others and performing little acts of kindness and generosity makes all the difference in the world.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. We humans are made in the image of God, who, in His very nature, is relational and all-giving. What should come as a surprise is how few people actually practice generosity. Notre Dame found that that “only 2.7 percent of Americans give a 10th or more of their income to charity, at least 86.2 percent give away less than 2 percent of their income and nearly half give nothing.”
Sadly, as our society has become less Christian, it has become less generous. And less happy.
C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:
Charity– giving to the poor– is an essential part of Christian morality: in the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats it seems to be the point on which everything turns (Matthew 25:31-46). Some people nowadays say that charity ought to be unnecessary and that instead of giving to the poor we ought to be producing a society in which there were no poor to give to. They may be quite right in saying that we ought to produce this kind of society. But if anyone thinks that, as a consequence, you can stop giving in the meantime, then he has parted company with all Christian morality. I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them. I am speaking now of ‘charities’ in the common way. Particular cases of distress among your own relatives, friends, neighbors or employees, which God, as it were, forces upon your notice, may demand much more: even to the crippling and endangering of your own position. For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear– fear of insecurity. This must often be recognized as a temptation.
Proverbs 19:17 — Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.
Acts 20:35 — (Paul said), “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
II Corinthians 9:6-7 — Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Romans 12:13 — Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
Almighty God, all that we possess is from Your loving hand. Give us grace that we may honor You with all we own, always remembering the account we must one day give to Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.