We give every day without thinking much about it. Such as providing for our parents, our kids, and our friends by way of cooking a meal, paying for bills, and taking our parents to medical appointments. Some of us give by the way of donating to charities. Donations to the needy or the poor may evoke a more compassionate feeling in us. But when it comes to relatives or our regular daily giving, we may do it irascibly or nonchalantly. Is it possible to consistently give in a way that brings us joy no matter who we give to? What is the joy of giving? Why give if it isn’t a joyful act?
Why do we give?
The act of giving is often promoted by religions, most prominently by Christian churches. But giving is also encouraged in Buddhism and in Islam. It may seem as if we need a higher purpose to give, but it isn’t true. Without religion, the act of giving seems to be something innate in humans. We, humans, are capable of both kind and destructive acts. For instance, we are able to create charity organizations to help the needy. But at the same time, we are just as capable of creating conflict and war.
Even in the act of giving, some of us have selfish intentions behind our generosity. We may give so we can get something in return – such as a better reputation, or a promotion. Otherwise, we may give while expecting gratitude from someone. Or we may donate our income to certain organizations out of habit without being sincere. Is it possible to give wholeheartedly, without expecting something in return?
What prevents the joy of giving?
We have been taught to gain, attain, and achieve from a young age. Our parents to the society are continuously teaching us to attain good academic results so we can gain a good position in society. We are taught several ways to accumulate passive income so we can retire early. Even when we are practicing meditation and mindfulness, we do it so as to achieve well-being.
What if we are already perfect to start with and there is nothing to gain or to achieve? What if, all we think we lack in life are ideas taught to us that we believe in, even though they aren’t true? If we are already enough, to begin with, giving would not come from a place of lack where we expect something in return.
The obstacles to preventing us from joyfully giving are numerous. The first type of giving comes from the autopilot mind. When we are in autopilot mode, we do things without attention. The lack of attention means we are easily affected by our moods unknowingly. Something may affect our moods and cause us to act irascibly in our act of giving. The second type of giving involves wanting something back in return. Some of us are aware of it and some are not. When we don’t get what we want after giving, it makes us upset. In these two modes of giving, there is no joy in the act of generosity.
The different types of giving
Joy is an uplifting and happy feeling. In my personal opinion, when we give to others in an autopilot mode, we miss out on the feeling of happiness. Most of us enjoy giving to ourselves – such as a nice treat or a big birthday gift. But when we give to others, we may start measuring our time and our resources. We are just less enthusiastic when it comes to offering things to others, especially our time or something we need to acquire.
The easiest way to give is to offer what we have in excess or give away our old belongings. When we give away what we don’t need, it is still considered charity. But there is less happiness from the heart because in our minds (even though we don’t admit it), it feels like we are discarding what we don’t need to others who need it more.
The type of giving that needs effort from the heart includes giving something we need to make, or giving something we have a need for to another. When we give in this way, we may appreciate the happiness of our gift. Why? It is because we have sacrificed our time or our resources to truly help another. When we are aware and willing to give away what we treasure and see others get it, it somehow brings joy to our hearts. This willingness to sacrifice something we want for another has an interesting uplifting effect on the human heart because humans like to calculate gains and losses. Thus, to give what we may deem as a loss (to us) makes us more aware of our act of giving, as opposed to discarding old items to others.
Although most of us equate giving based on material needs, the most difficult things we can give of ourselves are our time, love, and attention. Time is something we measure a lot. Giving someone else our time can cause us to be agitated when that person takes up more time than we have allocated.
How can the act of giving come with joy?
We need not feel like we are losing something in order to start paying attention. Attention is sorely lacking in today’s society with numerous social media apps and devices preventing us from paying attention to our lives in the present moment.
Being present means there is attention. Attention means there is an awareness or a certain kind of relaxed concentration to our emotions, behavior, and how it affects another. Our intention to give may be to benefit another person. But when the act of giving takes place, we may be reluctant to give. Or else, we may become upset if the other person is unaware of our gift, or even worse, ungrateful.
But you see, when we decide to give, we cannot expect the receiver to be grateful. That’s because we made our own decision to give without seeking the receiver’s consent. Therefore, they have the freedom to react in whichever way is their habitual mode. We can only be responsible for our feelings of stinginess, or irascibility if the receiver does not react the way we expect them to. Only we can take care of our own emotions and actions.
Only when we are present and aware, can we become attentive to our emotions and another’s needs. We may give what others do not need – for example, the receiver may want compassion and time, more than our material gifts. Giving truly is happy because, in a way, we let go of the burden of this feeling of wanting and desiring to keep time, or material things to ourselves all the time.
When we give habitually, it becomes a memory in our minds. We can recall our gifts to our loved ones, to others, and to the world in times of despair to lift our own minds because the act of giving is in nature, an act of sacrifice and love.