I recently shared some thinking on gratitude and on happiness. These are linked, in intricate ways, to generosity.
I reflected on these connections last week, triggered by a heart-warming experience. When I arrived in Phonm Penh from Amsterdam, I discovered that I had a small problem with my luggage. My rollerbag had a loose screw that prevented me from collapsing the handle in the regular way. I was mildly frustrated. I did not have the small Allen key required to fix it. I expected to struggle with my luggage until I arrived home in Hong Kong, where I have the necessary tools and would be able to tighten the screw. But, I accepted the situation and figured I would cope.
One morning, coming out of my hotel, I noticed, across the street, a hole-in-the-wall hardware store that sold cheap tools. [See photo]. It was an informal mother-and-daughter operation – I suspect the daughter was no more than 12 years old. I was uncertain whether I would be able to communicate (my Khmer is non-existent), but I chose to try my luck. I explained that I wished to use an Allen key, preferably not to buy it, but to “rent” it for one minute. Whether it was due to the weirdness of my request or the language challenge, I don’t know, but they looked at me as if I were from another planet. They did not seem hostile, though, so I said: “I’ll be back”. I ran up to my hotel room, retrieved the rollerbag, crossed the street again to the simple stall and pointed to the wayward screw. The mother immediately sized up the problem, got the right key, and tightened the screw. I was delighted. I offered to pay for the service, but they declined this. I raised my voice and explained that they had helped me in a way that I truly appreciated, and I really wanted to compensate them for their trouble. Their refusal was even more adamant. I gave up, bowed deeply to the two women, smiled at them, and went on my way – touched by their kindness and generosity.
The experience got me thinking: What generates such generosity? It struck me that generosity and gratitude are strongly linked. Naturally, when we show generosity, others will often feel grateful. But I am just as interested in the reverse link. As we practice gratitude, our generosity will naturally grow. When we are conscious of all that we have received, the wish will grow in us also to give. And generosity nurtures our own happiness at least as much as it nurtures the happiness of those around us. Generosity positively affects five factors that we know contribute to our own happiness.
- Generosity contribute to self-acceptance: it is easier to be OK about myself when I observe that I am a generous person.
- Increasing generosity is one dimension of personal growth and generosity is also a marker of personal growth. It indicates that we have moved beyond satisfying our very basic needs.
- Generosity contributes to positive relations – for obvious reasons.
- Generosity gives us a clear sense of environmental mastery. We can freely choose to give, and thus affect our immediate environment.
- Generosity strengthens our sense of autonomy. It gives us a clear sense of choices that we are free to make. It opens up the space between external action and our chosen response and gives us more options.
As leaders, we strongly influence our environments – sometimes more than we know. While we may frequently be busy and feel stretched, it costs us little to show generosity. We need to find the time. When we role-model in this area, we start and reinforce a virtual circle of gratitude, happiness and more generosity. I was touched by the Khmer mother and daughter who helped me in Phnom Penh, and I wow to pay it forward. And, I wow, more generally, to practice generosity.