07. Generosity: To give without seeking anything in return


What would you do?

In 2014, Internet giant eBay named Lynne Beckett as its top UK charity seller. Lynne is a former nurse from Stourport who spent years treating airlifted patients who has raised over £100,000 on eBay to fund 40 helicopter missions by the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity. Most of us use eBay as a way of raising money for themselves: how about raising money for others instead? Source: The Independent Newspaper

The benefits of generosity

Generosity has the potential to:

  • release us from a limited and compulsive focus on ‘me’ and ‘mine’
  • promote the pleasures of sharing time, energy, talents and possessions 
  • develop confidence and joy in our capacity to be of benefit to others

A 16 Guidelines view on generosity

In some ways generosity seems a crazy, counter-cultural way to behave. Instead of keeping our time, energy or possessions for ourselves, we give them away. There’s something very powerful about choosing to do this. It is a fundamental shift away from the limited world of ‘me’ and ‘mine.’

Generosity is defined by the wish to benefit someone else. It is rarely the size of the gift or the gesture that matters most, but the message that comes with it. The heart knows this, immediately and unmistakeably. We taste the uneasiness when a gift has an ulterior motive, and save our real admiration for the person who can give without seeking a return.

To some degree, everyone on the planet is likely to demonstrate generosity in some way, whether to a member of their family, a friend, or a beloved animal. The question is simply whether we choose to go further than that. Whether we want to learn how to open our hearts and hands more widely, and to share more generously whatever time, energy, talents and possessions we have. It’s a critical decision about the direction that we want our lives to take.

16 Guidelines resources and training for developing generosity


Did you know?

Mathematical models predict, and experiments confirm, that generosity is an essential feature of winning strategies in games that explore human interactions. 'Prosocialbehaviour' has evolved within a framework of direct or indirect reciprocity, and the latter may even have provided the selection pressures for social intelligence and language.

Recent studies suggest that people who provide social support to others have lower blood pressure than participants who don't, suggesting a direct physiological benefit to those who give of themselves.


Martin A. Nowak, Generosity: A winner's advice, The University of Manchester, Nature 456-579, 2008. 

Marsh, J. and Suttie, J., 5 ways giving is good, Greater Good: Science for a Meaningful Life, University of Berkley, 2010.



The real wealth comes from helping others,” said Cesar Chavez, who was inspired by role models such as St Francis of Assisi, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. to dedicate himself to a life of service. 

Chavez demonstrated that generosity isn’t just about giving away money or possessions (of which he had little) but to tirelessly offer his time and energy to others: as a civil rights Latino and labour leader, a community organizer and social entrepreneur, and a crusader for the environment and consumer rights. 

“In this world it is possible to achieve great material wealth, to lead an opulent life” he said. “But a life built upon those things alone leaves a shallow legacy. In the end, we will be judged by other standards….we need a revolution of mind and heart.”

For more on Cesar Chavez, see:

  1. www.chavezfoundation.org
  2. The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworker’s Movement by Susan Ferriss and Ricardo Sandoval (Harvest/HBL, 1998)
  3. The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworker’s Struggle directed by Rick Tejada-Flores and Ray Telles, 1997 (originally produced by Paradigm Productions and available on VHS from The Cinema Guild Inc., New York)


A short reflection on generosity from '16 Guidelines: The Basics' book

Let your imagination take you to your favourite room in your home - the cosiest and most comfortable place where you most like to spend your time. Settle yourself down in the place where you normally like to be. Take a deep breath and relax.

Take a leisurely look around the room. Pass your gaze over all the objects that it contains. Then focus in turn on all the objects that you received as a gift. Each one will carry its own memory. Can you take your mind back to the moment of the gift, and the expression of the person who gave it to you? Why did they give it to you? How did you feel at the time?

Next, focus on all the objects in the room that you purchased for yourself. Each one will have its own individual history. Where did it come from? What is it made of? Who might have grown, woven, hammered, printed, designed, assembled or carved the object for your eventual use? How many people were involved in its packaging and transportation? Stretch your mind as far and wide as possible, to encompass all the beings who helped to bring this object into your possession. 

Do you own anything that you did not receive through the generosity of another person? Survey the room and try to find one single thing that is there without the involvement of anyone else. 

Consider the idea that it is only through the kindness of others that we enjoy possessions, sustenance, and nurture. What are the invisible connections between us that enable us to keep each other alive? What are the effects of the thoughtless and unskilful actions we are also caught up in, such as taking more than we need?  

From the comfort of your favourite room, reflect on how you would like to behave towards other beings. Is there something you can do to repay their kindness?    

Close with the wish “May all beings be happy!”


Quotes on generosity

  • You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give. - Winston Churchill
  • It is in giving that we receive. - St. Francis of Assisi
  • Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.  Happiness never decreases by being shared. – Buddha
  • You can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness —Anne Frank
  • We should give as we would receive: cheerfully, quickly, and without hesitation; for there is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers.—Seneca
  • The essence of generosity is letting go. Pain is always a sign that we are holding on to something – usually ourselves. – Pema Chodron
  • Too many have dispensed with generosity in order to practice charity. – Albert Camus
  • Generosity consists not of the sum given, but the manner in which it is bestowed. – Mahatma Gandhi


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