A few months ago I did a Headspace pack that focused on Generosity. For context, Headspace is an app for guided meditation. The pack was 30 days long, and it changed my perspective on Generosity.
It starts by asking you to be generous to yourself — by giving yourself time to meditate. When you meditate, you imagine a bright light starting in the middle of your chest, and slowly expanding outwards to fill your body.
The pack then moves on to considering others. How does your behavior affect your friends and family? How do you wish that they felt every day? When you meditate, you now imagine the bright speck of light in a friend or family member, and watch it grow.
The pack then moves on to considering strangers. How does your behavior affect complete strangers around you? How do you wish that they felt every day? When you meditate, you now imagine the bright speck of light in a complete stranger, and watch it grow.
This is a powerful exercise. It made me realize that I want everyone around me to be happy, to be carefree, and to be stress-free. It also made me realize just how much my own behavior can affect those around me. When I think about suffering, even the slightest amount, I do not wish that anyone has to feel pain. This includes strangers, and even my "enemies".
Given this new perspective, how do I now choose my behavior? For me, I ask myself "What is the most generous thing I could do right now?"
As Generous As Possible
Being as generous as possible can manifest in many different ways. Sometimes it requires a change in behavior, sometimes it just means being generous with your thoughts.
If I am frustrated with someone, I try to imagine scenarios which explain their behaviour and humanize them. For example, maybe the person walking slowly in front of me just has bad knees. Maybe my rude waiter is severely underpaid and their partner just broke up with them. Maybe my partner, with whom I just finished arguing, had a bad day at work, or is stressed about some upcoming responsibility. We all get into these situations ourselves, and in those times, generosity is what we want most.
I want to outline a specific scenario: disputes with loved ones. I have been frustrated and argumentative so many times in my life, and being as generous as possible has been the one thing that has prevented the most suffering. For me, I try to take a step back from the argument, give myself some time to cool down (just a couple minutes usually, but it could take much longer), and then I ask myself "What is the most generous thing I could do right now?".
It is really difficult to ask this question. It is even more difficult to answer it. Often times, I realize that I actually did do something harmful, and I got so caught up arguing that I never actually apologized — so I start there, by apologizing. This can be hard. Other times, I just say "I love you." Because I do love them, and it is worth reminding them, and myself. This can be hard, too. The objective is to let the argument end, and the suffering caused by arguing with it.
Maybe you will come up with a different answers to this question than I do. Either way, I encourage you to ask it, and I encourage you to be honest when answering it.
As a final note, I want to point out that generosity correlates highly with my happiness. When I am more generous, I am happier. When I am selfish, I find that it breeds thoughts and behaviours that lead to unhappiness. Being generous is not all about sacrificing yourself for the sake of others. In fact, if it does feel like sacrifice, maybe you are being too ambitious. It is important to continue to take care of yourself, and it is okay to warm up slowly to being more generous.
If you want to engage with me outside of reading this article, you can find me on twitter: @NickOnTheWeb.
What is the most generous thing you could do right now?
Illustration by Katie Jundt