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Do you find it easier to give rather than to receive? How do you feel to be on the receiving end of another person’s generosity? Are you embarrassed? Grateful? Have you ever felt bad for not responding in a more generous way to someone you saw was in trouble?

As humans, we can choose to be remarkably generous and as far as the brain is concerned these prosocial acts benefit us because it nurtures trust, loyalty and mutual respect. It also boosts our level of gratitude and happiness.

Scientists in Switzerland have discovered that publically pledging to be more generous not only increases levels of self-reported happiness it changes brain activity in the TPJ (temporo-parietal junction) area that is concerned with empathy and social cognition, and the ventral striatum the area related to reward and happiness.

This matters because being more generous leads to less judgement and criticism and greater tolerance and understanding of others. In a world that can sometimes come across as being a tad mean-spirited and self-obsessed a little more generosity could make it a feel a kinder, happier and safer place.

Cultivating generosity starts with us.

It’s not that we don’t want to be generous, it’s that our state of over-busyness and constant partial attention means we don’t see, hear or notice what’s happening around us.

It’s about taking the time out to relax and engage fully with our world. I read two wonderful examples of this is in a couple of unrelated articles this week, both air travel related by coincidence. In the first, Emily Verstege related how the actions of the aircrew on one particular flight made the lives and comfort of all passengers just a little bit better that day, but especially for one hassled Mum flying with three small children.

I guess many of us will have travelled on many planes, trains and automobiles and the one thing that makes the journey is the attitude and generosity of the staff – in showing that they care for you the passenger as an individual.

It’s the bus driver who ensures you get off at the right stop because you’re travelling alone in an unknown city.

Or the person in the street who stops to ask, “Can I help?” when you’re pondering over a map written in a different language, and then offers to walk with you to show you the way.

Or the family enjoying a delicious picnic who offer their food to share with others around them.

Be Generous with Your Attention

“Attention is the rarest and most pure form of generosity.”

Simone Weil

This is something I struggle to get better at on a daily basis. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of taking others for granted, being aware of their presence but not really tuning in to give my full and undivided attention.
In his book “Give and Take” Adam Grant reminds us why giving is the fastest route to personal and professional success, with the focus on helping others to create the ultimate win-win.

It’s easy to blame our busy lives, our technology and stress for not paying attention, but ultimately, it’s our choice. Choosing to pause, to listen deeply* enables greater understanding and connection.

*The Book “Deep Listening” by Oscar Trimboli is highly recommended btw.

It’s the choice to switch off from work and the Internet to spend time with those who mean the most. It’s been revealed the mere presence of a mobile phone on a table reduces the quality of a personal interaction, so put it out of sight and switch it to silent.

Be Generous with Your Time

The saddest outcome from the illusion of time poverty is when we fail to maintain some of those important friendships that end up fizzling out, broken or lost forever.
How many times have you had the intention of reaching out but time ran away again and those days have turned into weeks, months or years?

It was at our 30-year Medical School reunion where one friend was overwhelmed with grief to hear that a good mutual friend had died – several years previously. He had had no idea his friend was even ill. They had lost touch, and now there would never be time to reconnect.

It may only take a minute, but taking that time can make a huge difference and as the R.U.O.K campaign reminds us, it can potentially save a life.

Try saying thank you to those who have been generous to us. This is a great little video (about 7 minutes) that reminds us to express gratitude to those who have contributed the most to our lives and yes, it’s a bit of a tear-jerker, so you may want to get the hankies ready.

Create a Culture of Generosity

A generous workplace isn’t focused just on the perks of good coffee and providing childcare. Its person focused, seeking to establish mutual respect, acknowledge good work done and to celebrate all wins. It creates greater happiness at work, which is good for people and for business. Generosity and gratitude work hand in hand.

Other than that, generosity is good for our health helping to alleviate stress, boost mood and mental wellbeing, improve the quality of our relationships and reduce mortality!

In this season of giving, let’s choose to use generosity as a means to trump selfishness and provide more benefit to the greater good.

How do you like to show your generosity?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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