Acts of kindness is an easy way to spread happiness. But generosity is more than an act – it is an attitude and a way of life

When you do something for someone else that is unexpected and kind, like giving something or showing appreciation, they typically light up. There is a smile on their face, a feeling of gratitude and perhaps a sense of connection that wasn’t there just moments before. And how do you feel when acting out of generosity? It feels great! Even witnessing someone else performing an act of kindness and generosity makes us happy.

Science agrees; when you perform an act of kindness the pituitary gland releases oxytocin – a hormone correlated with a sense of connection. This surge of oxytocin increases our capacity to care for others and our willingness to reach out and connect. It literally binds us together. And the more oxytocin we have in our system, the more generous we become. Once we get a momentum going, kindness becomes self perpetuating.

Another way to respond to stress

Acting generously and compassionately does not come naturally when we are caught in a stress response. When we are in a state of fight, flight or freeze, we focus on our immediate survival and forget about others. We tend to act impulsively and selfishly. But there is another response to stress, which is knowns as the “tend and befriend” response. When this response is activated, we tend to seek connection and turn toward each other with care. This stress response is especially characteristic of women during labor and child care but it is available in all of us.

Through acts of kindness and generosity, we can consciously activate this response and shift away from destructive and reactive responses to stress. We increase our likelihood to respond from a place of care. In this way, generosity serves as a powerful exaptation of our inherent capacity for kindness and caring. One that enables us to cut the chain of reactive behavior (see Frame “Coming back to our senses“) and enable us to respond from a place of wisdom and care.

Giving and receiving from the heart

Generosity is more than the act of giving. The motivation behind the generosity is equally important. It may be helpful to explore your relation to generosity. See if you can become curious about your motivation for giving and receiving.

💡 Inquiry practice session:

Take some time to inquire into the following questions:

How does it feel when I give out of a sense of obligation, or expecting something in return? How do I react if the gift/act is not received as I had hoped? How does it feel when the person receives the gift with joy and gratitude? How does it feel when I give because I simply want to give? What does it mean to give from the heart? How does it feel to receive a gift? Do I sometimes reject a gift because of suspicion or fear of being indebted? What does it mean to receive from the heart?

After your inquiry, take a moment to consider your relation to giving and receiving. Perhaps you want to set an intention. As you go about your day, continue to be curious and mindful of your feelings and reactions when giving and receiving.

More than an act

Generosity is not just an act but an attitude of life. When we inhabit this attitude, we can more easily see the full humanity of another being. We no longer see people as obstacles to our goals or means of getting what we want. We realise that they, just like us, are experiencing suffering and looking for happiness. We recognise our common humanity. We remember the “being mode”.

Just like training a muscle, we train our capacity to live from the heart and see goodness in others and in the world. Over time, we start seeing opportunities to express generosity everywhere. Through the cultivation of generosity and the contemplations on metta, we turn compassion and connection into a way of life.

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