Today’s Topic- Intangible Generosity
This topic came to me by surprise, even though, I was actually the one to plant the seed for myself a few months ago.
Here’s what happened: the other morning, I was journaling, and I flipped to a new page in my notebook and saw that “past me” had written a prompt to answer. The prompt was: “How can I be generous and abundant today?”
First of all, I don’t know where “past me” got that prompt- if it was just an inspired question, or if I found it on a list of journal prompts, or if a previous writing session generated that question. I have no idea -but, it turned out to be the MOST amazing writing exercise and has now even resulted in this post for you.
Secondly, if you’re pressed for time, or just feeling antsy and ready to go take action, you could actually stop reading right now (please don’t though) and go answer that question in your own journaling and this post will have paid for itself! Right?
Do you see how thinking about how you can be generous and abundant today is such a valuable use of your time and energy and has so many far reaching and long-lasting benefits? What a perfect example of an empowering question, right?
Seriously- if you do decide to pause now and answer that question before reading how I answered it, I’d love to hear what you came up with. Maybe you can share it on your podcast (I’d listen to that!) or you could email me.. Or just tell me about it!
And thirdly, let’s just get into it. I want to tell you what that question brought up for me, what I realized, what it made me wonder about, what I researched as a result of thinking about it and how I’ve implemented what I came up with.
How You Can be Generous
You’ll learn my ideas about how you can be generous even when you don’t feel like you have anything to give.
You can practice intangible generosity in your life to see how it feels and to find out what you get when you give.
I have a question for you: What do you think about (or what’s your personal definition of) the words generosity and abundance?
When I thought about generosity, I thought of sharing or giving freely with no agenda and no expectation.
Noticing that definition I came up with for myself made me wonder if it can still be generous if there are “strings attached.” For example, if someone gives you money for a specific purpose or shares advice with the expectation that you’ll implement that advice. Is that really generosity on the giver’s part?
If there are strings attached, is the “generosity” actually self-serving, and therefore no longer generous?
My Own Contradiction
And here’s where I contradict myself a little.
Is generosity the same as altruism? I don’t think so. Altruism is doing something that benefits someone else at a cost to yourself. Sometimes when we give to others we end up costing ourselves that resource or benefit- but, I think we also get other benefits or other intrinsic rewards as a result of our generosity. So maybe it can still be self-serving.
Resistance to Generosity
Going back to that morning with that writing prompt, when I saw it, I was bought in- I believe in generosity. I like thinking about and feeling abundant – so, when I read the prompt, I was immediately on board- until some resistance started creeping up for me.
One of my initial resistant thoughts when I saw that writing prompt that morning was something along the lines of “I have nothing to give” because I had been feeling particularly depleted recently.
And when I rolled that scarcity thought around in my mind a little and checked it out, I realized, “no, that’s not it- I know I have so much”, but figuring out how to give and how much to give and who to give it to seemed like it would take a lot of energy (ohh.. Did you notice that second appearance of scarcity there? Hi Resistance!)
My Generosity Misunderstanding
In exploring those two offers of resistance from my own brain (one, that I had nothing to give and the second that it would take too much energy to be generous) I stumbled upon my generosity misunderstanding.
I was equating generosity with tangibility. When I thought about how to be generous, I was thinking about something a little more traditional, and maybe, specifically measurable – like I could give money to an organization. I can go through my house and find useful things I don’t want or need and give them to someone who needs them. I can donate my time or my services. And those are all true and all generous.. And.. the list doesn’t stop there. My misunderstanding was thinking the list did stop there. That those were some of the only options. And when I realized I was just believing a misunderstanding, and I corrected myself, my mind opened up, and that’s when I started to understand intangible generosity.
Before I give you examples of intangible generosity – let’s stay on my resistance a little longer just in case your brain offered you some of the same objections mine did.
Opposite of Generosity
What’s the opposite of generosity? Stinginess? Greediness? Selfishness? Maybe depending on the context, all of those apply. What I really think it boils down to – the opposite of generosity is probably rooted in scarcity.
In my case, my initial resistance to thinking about how I could be generous was thinking “I have nothing to give.” – classic scarcity! And the second resistant thought my brain offered me was ”it will take too much time and energy” – implying that there’s not enough time and energy (which of course there is) – so again, scarcity.
It might show up for other people in thoughts like “but if I give what I have, there won’t be enough for me.” or “there’s only so much of this, so if I give it generously, it will be gone.” And of course, when you’re thinking and living in scarcity, you just attract more scarcity. That’s what your brain is focused on and trained to recognize. But, when you can break out of that habit or pattern or mood and see possibility, and openness and abundance, then you get more of all of that!
Nothing to Give?
So, what if, like me that morning, you think you have nothing to give? Maybe you’re thinking “I’m empty. I’m exhausted. I have nothing.”
Notice those are your thoughts. Maybe they are true, maybe you believe them and are committed to believing them. I’m going to gently push back and say “maybe those thoughts are not 100% true. And wouldn’t it be better if they weren’t?”
When I considered my own resistant thought that I had nothing to give and no energy to figure it out (and realized that didn’t feel great), I wondered if intangible generosity would be easier (or maybe it would be easier to overcome my scarce thinking around the more familiar kind of generosity in that moment.)
Examples of Intangible Generosity
I just want to point out, my mind didn’t immediately jump from “I have nothing” to “Oh, I guess I should think about intangible generosity.” I didn’t even think of that phrase until after I had already come through the whole experience and looked back at it and realized I could organize all these examples into a named category (because, you know I love to organize things!)
I give all the credit for this exercise to having previously learned the benefit of asking empowering questions. I described these a little in the breakthroughs during coaching post so if you paid attention to that and learned about empowering questions, and if you’re now using them, or considering using them – you get all the credit too!
That morning, when I saw the journal prompt, and noticed my scarcity thoughts, I asked myself empowering questions – which were opposite to my scarcity thoughts – what do I have? What can I give generously right now? How is my life so abundant right now?
My brain went to work answering the new questions instead of continuing to find examples of how I have nothing and how I feel depleted and how it would be too much energy to figure out what to give in my current state.
Here are some of the examples of intangible generosity you can consider for yourself.
This reminds me of one Thanksgiving when I stopped at the grocery store after work on the Wednesday before – probably the worst day and time to go to the grocery store. I was rushing around, darting between people grabbing what I needed, afraid of forgetting something, and in the frozen food section, a woman commented on my necklace. She told me how lovely it was and how it set off my eyes perfectly. Wow! What an unexpected and sweet compliment! Amazing!
And then, as I kept rushing around the store, she kept catching my eye and I noticed her talking and commenting to lots of different people. I overheard little snippets of other compliments she was giving. What was happening?
It was interesting and unique. I’ll be honest – I wondered if she was doing it as a dare, or if maybe she was a little crazy. And then, when I checked out, as I was leaving the store, I saw her give a man a bouquet of flowers. I had to hear this so I purposely slowed down so I could eavesdrop as I passed. She was telling him she had seen him with his girlfriend and thought they were a beautiful couple and wanted him to have something beautiful to give her. So sweet. And if I hadn’t experienced the whole thing myself, I wouldn’t believe it. It sounds made up and exaggerated – no one acts like that in real life. Who has time for that!? And, that story is a little over the top (but 100% true) but it’s also a perfect example of the generosity of giving compliments. It’s possible that at least 20 other people shared that experience with me that Thanksgiving Eve – of being randomly complimented by a stranger and noticing her complimenting others. I still have no idea what she was up to – but, it made my day, it probably made other people’s day, maybe it’s making your day now to read the story all these years later and I’m 100% sure that complimenting lady had a blast and I know she felt amazing after that experience.
Attention is one I want to work on when my husband talks to me when I’m already engaged in something else. Wouldn’t it be the most generous thing I could do in that moment to put aside what I’m doing and generously give him my undivided attention? And this goes for any activity! How generous it would be to give our attention so fully to whatever we are doing in the moment – driving, working, spending time with people we love, enjoying our food?
Last night, I was scrolling on my phone and he started talking to me, just random chit chat, not asking me a specific question or telling me something specific to me. Sometimes, when this happens, I half- listen and give little sounds of acknowledgement while not really paying attention- but last night, because of this new intention of generosity, I remembered to put my phone down and turn to focus on him. I have plenty of attention to give, why not give it generously!
This is one of my favorite ways to be generous. I love sharing what I know. I love teaching. I love finding and researching information that I know will be helpful to someone else. So, if you are an expert at something, or a crazy fan of a topic – how can you share what you know? How can you be generous with your knowledge?
Don’t you love being entertained?
I do! And when I think about how I can be generous in entertainment, it includes telling a funny or interesting story, making someone laugh, sharing an entertaining picture. There are so many ways to be generous in this category- either spontaneously or scheduled! An my favorite current topical entertainment this past week has been scrolling through all the Bernie Memes – seeing all the creativity and cleverness of how people are photoshopping the picture of him at the inauguration into movie scenes and other cultural scenarios. I’m feeling generously entertained!
What kinds of things fall into the category of affection? Of course, with a partner, you probably have intimate affection, so that’s one way to be generous, but you can generously show affection to other people in your life too. To people who you’re close to, a touch, a hug and for strangers, even just eye contact and a smile can be affectionate.
Help and Support
For the 6th and 7th categories, I’ll combine them together, because while you can differentiate and come up with specific distinct examples for each one individually, they are pretty similar. They are Help and Support.
I’ve noticed some very generous offers of help recently as we’ve been renovating and moving. I’m touched when I’ve been at the hardware store trying to load something heavy, like tile or drywall or a shelving unit on to a cart and a stranger, who doesn’t even work there, will generously go out of their way to lend a hand. During a time when we’re all keeping our distance from each other, it’s touching to see someone stop what they’re doing to come over and help.
I’ve been the grateful recipient of so much generous support from my friends and family in the last little while. So many people offering to help, sending thoughtful gifts, ordering food, just checking in with a text message. This display of generosity is a great example for me and has been so supportive to me too.
I’ve also been the grateful recipient of so much encouragement from my coach recently. As I was working through some of my own thoughts and beliefs, I could see I was being “hard on myself.” But I really believed those thoughts. I thought those standards were necessary and required. Of course they weren’t and my coach’s generous encouragement for me really helped me consider alternate ideas and perspectives that I didn’t have access to on my own. Her encouragement gave me some beliefs I could borrow from her until I believed the for myself.
Forgiveness and Unconditional Love
The last 2 categories are ones I’m really working on to be generous not only with other people, but with myself right now. I’m looking for examples of how I can be more generous in these categories when I don’t really feel that way.
And I am combining these 2 together also and won’t talk too much about them in this post- they probably each deserve their own posts. They are Forgiveness and Unconditional Love.
Forgiveness is an area where I’m trying to be more generous with myself. What if I could be so generous in my forgiveness to myself? What’s the harm? And when I think about the alternative.. I see so many benefits of being generous in forgiveness to myself and to others. In fact, this one doesn’t seem altruistic at all, it seems more self-serving to me than to whoever I’m deciding to forgive. Which is why these two go together.
Let’s say there’s nothing to forgive, so I just decide to generously love someone unconditionally without expectation, without an agenda, without demanding anything in return. What if I just decide to love without condition? Again, it seems like I’m the beneficiary of my own generosity in this case – and I’m ok with that!
Connection between Generosity and Abundance
Just coming up with those topics that morning, on a day I wasn’t feeling especially generous or abundant made me instantly feel more abundant. I knew I could be generous in all of those areas. I started thinking about how and with who and when I could be generous. My hope is, by hearing about my experience and how I see these examples of generosity in my life, you will consider them for your life as well.
How You Can Practice Intangible Generosity
Now you have a handful of examples of intangible generosity to choose from and you might have thought of other examples for yourself. What if, for the next 10 days, you practiced intangible generosity in one of those areas?
What if you came up with your own personal list of ways to be intangibly generous?
You can be generous even when you don’t feel like you have anything to give.
You can practice intangible generosity in your life to see how it feels and to find out what you get when you give.
I want to hear how it works for you!
What did you realize as you were listening to my examples and experiences?
What are you thinking about trying any of them for yourself?
Business Brainstorming and Accountability Group
Here’s one way that I’m practicing intangible generosity in the information, support and encouragement categories.
In February, I’m facilitating a business brainstorming and accountability group. It’s going to be so helpful and inspiring and fun! Not overwhelming or frustrating at all!
If you’ve just started your business or are thinking of starting one (or any new endeavor really), I want to support and encourage you. One of my favorite things to do is business brainstorming. I love getting excited with other people about their plans and ideas and I love helping them research and build and plan on those ideas!
You can join me on Tuesday evenings. Learn more here.