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The concept of generosity has many meanings, most often connoting giving of money or gifts to charities or other people. Other definitions of the word include:

  • Showing a readiness to give more of something, as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected.
  • Showing kindness toward others.
  • Liberal in giving or sharing; unselfish; free from meanness or smallness of mind or character; magnanimous.

These are the three I want to focus on in this post. When put together, I refer to this definition as “generosity of spirit.”

The concept of being generous of spirit fits within the broader context of living life from the inside out.  It is an attitude that one can adopt and can become a way in which one engages the world. Being generous of spirit does not depend upon how one is treated; it can be adopted irrespective of the response or circumstance.

The concept suggests that one engages others with an open heart and mind. It presumes a nonjudgmental attitude along with a tolerance for ideas and behaviors that may not comport with one’s own. It requires a high level of tolerance for different beliefs, values, and behavior. Generosity of spirit requires that one spend more energy looking at what it good and positive in someone than at what one thinks is bad or negative. Generosity of spirit embraces differences with acceptance.

People who are generous of spirit are genuinely happy for others good fortune irrespective of their own circumstances. They are devoid of envy, seldom have disparaging thoughts about others and never make disparaging comments. They tend to look for and assume the best in people and treat all people with the same degree of respect and acceptance. They go beyond mere tolerance; they tend to be more magnanimous and are able to include greater differences from their own beliefs or values.

I know a 68 year old widower who has undergone several organ transplants, several careers, went from wealth to basic survival, lives on $1000 per month, and economic necessity required him to move to another state where the rents are cheaper in order to sustain himself. Despite his circumstances, he never fails to be ecstatic over the successes of his friends, their luxury vacations, and their affluent lifestyle. He takes genuine pleasure in their good fortune.

And there is a 61 year old, single woman who suffered traumatic brain injury, not once, but twice! She spends a lot of her time either in bed or shuttling between health care providers. She struggles to hold down a job when she is able and to pay her bills. She experiences vertigo, cognitive impairment, and a variety of other symptoms. Yet, she is able to greet each day with hope. She relishes the stories from her friends’ adventures and successes; she vicariously experiences their vacations. She is empathic, warm, sympathetic, as she engages the people in her life.

And then there are those men and women who live in multimillion dollar homes, have substantial money in the bank, a lovely family, including a spouse and children. But because of early childhood experiences that are experienced as painful, struggles with personal demons, or other life circumstance, e.g., a personal or family member’s disability, they can do nothing but feel sorry for themselves and wallow in self-pity over the happiness of others. For them, everyone else has a better life than they, and they feel resentful toward others viewing them with disdain and envy.

The former individual live their life with a spirit of generosity, while the latter individuals live with bitterness.

We have a choice as to how we will orient ourselves in the world and how we will act. We can choose to view the world through the eyes of a positivist who sees the world as filled with possibility and potential, and thereby approaches life with enthusiasm, wonder, and joy. Or we can view the world through the eyes of the cynic, who sees nothing but corruption, and therefor approaches the world with distrust, suspicion, sarcasm, and scorn.

Similarly, we can engage the world with a generosity of spirit where we greet people with trust, openness, and compassion or we can choose to engage from the position of self-pity, envy, and disdain. Should we choose the former, we increase the probability of experiencing happiness in our lives; if we choose the latter, we increase the probability of feeling depressed and resentful. The choice is ours.


[Dr. Dreyfus is a nationally recognized clinical psychologist, relationship counselor, sex therapist, and life coach in the Santa Monica – Los Angeles. The profits from his latest book, LIVING LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT along with his other five books, are being donated to charity through the website Book Royalties for Charity and can be purchased through Amazon.com. Please become a friend on his Facebook Fan Page by indicating “like” on the page by clicking here. You can also find more tools to help you experience a more fulfilling life by clicking here to visit his website.]