Healthy Habits

The Surprising Link Between Generosity and Well-Being

Studies show that when we do good, we will feel good. by Major Rob Reardon

The Bible talks a lot about generosity. According to James 1:17, “Every good action and every perfect gift is from God” (NCV). The apostle Paul states that God “has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding” (Ephesians 1:8). Just as the God who created us is a generous God, we too are to follow in this pattern and show generosity to others.

The expectation of generosity is echoed throughout scripture—both the Old and New Testaments. The psalms and Proverbs offer examples of how to be generous: “Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely …” (Psalm 112:5 NIV); “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor” (Proverbs 22:9 NIV). Jesus carries this on throughout His teaching as He instructs His followers to go beyond normal expectations—giving to those who may not deserve it, without any expectation of anything in return. 

Beyond the exhortations toward generosity found in Scripture, we see cultural references to this virtue throughout history. Aristotle held generosity in high regard, touting it as one of his top three virtues of character. Thomas Aquinas contended that acts of generosity “should in principle extend to all, in the sense that we should be ready to do good to anyone at all, including strangers and enemies.”1  

You might be wondering whether or not there is a time and place for generosity. A quote, often attributed to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, summarizes the ethos of generosity: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, so long as ever you can.” Along the same lines, Evangeline Booth gave this charge to early Salvationists: “There is no reward equal to that of doing the most good to the most people in the most need.”

It is safe to say that across theological, social and cultural lines, the virtue of generosity is valued and appreciated, but perhaps more importantly, necessary for the wellbeing of all humanity. 

Generosity, however, doesn’t bring benefits to those on the receiving end alone. According to a significant amount of research, generosity has some personal benefits,  including the improvement of mental and physical health. One study discovered that generosity lowered blood pressure, reduced the risk of dementia and improved chronic pain management. I don’t know about you, but I would rather save money by spending less on prescriptions and being more generous to fellow human beings.

In a study out of the University of Notre Dame, researchers claim that generosity shouldn’t be equated to altruism, which is a disconnected or even disinterested form of charity. Generosity goes deeper; its practice is as good for the receiver as it is for the giver in that it “achieves one’s own true, long-term good as well.”3  In his letter to the believers in ancient Philippi, Paul wrote, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4 NIV)

In October 2013, the “Journal of Marriage and Family” published a study that showed that both the recipient and giver of generosity within a marriage expressed higher levels of marital satisfaction. Such satisfaction could be expanded to relationships in general, one would suspect, given the notion that generosity expressed within any friendship would be happily received. A cursory examination of our own relationships would bear witness to this, wouldn’t they? When generosity is reciprocated, and selfishness is reduced and/or eliminated, aren’t the interactions more pleasant than anticipated? Wouldn’t we all like to wake up each day knowing that such a world was awaiting us?

Which brings us back to the biblical understanding of generosity. A favorite song in our household is from an album released by singer Steve Green. In 1992, Green released a kids’ album called, “Hide ‘Em In Your Heart: Bible Memory Melodies, Volume 2.” On that album there is a song based on 2 Corinthians “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously (9:6-7 NIV). Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (NIV).” While most often associated with financial giving, the principle found in those verses can be applied to all aspects of a generous lifestyle.

When Jesus was teaching His disciples in the sixth chapter of Luke, He was essentially teaching them how to live a generous lifestyle. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you, turn the other cheek … give to everyone who asks … do to others as you would have them do to you … love your enemies, do good to them … lend without expecting to get anything back … be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27-36 NIV).

Studies show that when we do good, we will feel good. But more importantly, God expects us to do good because He is good, and in turn, not only will we feel good, but we will be good.

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