Generosity is a strange thing.
Most of us are used to bi-directional transactions. You give me something. I give you something. It's really simple.
So when we upset the balance of everything we know, when we're generous, we're often left with someone looking at us with the question – “what's going on here?”
People don't trust generosity. They wonder what the other side of the transaction is really going to cost them. After all, nothing in life is free. Right?
Some things in life are better free
But wait. Some things are free. The most important things in life are only valuable because they're not transactions, right?
Love, for example, between committed adults is special when it's not governed by contractual interactions. It doesn't feel like love if one person says “sure, I'll love you if you iron my shirts” or another says, “make me dinner and I'll surely love you.”
But here's the craziest thing about generosity. And I promise that I'll circle back to this concept in more detail later in the month. But research suggests that acts of generosity are actually the lubricant that deepen trust between people. Even while we're all distrustful.
Giving with Expectation
But let's dig into this idea of reciprocation today, because I think there's an aspect of generosity that is often missed, that is directly tied to reciprocation.
Some people will tell you that generosity is about giving without expecting anything in return. I'm going to disagree – or at least modify the expectation.
Here's what I want to tell you. When you're generous I want you to expect all of it back. Every bit of it. And more.
Now, don't walk away before you hear me out.
The only difference is that I don't want you to look to see a return from the person you've been generous with.
See, I think that's what people think of when they talk about generosity and not expecting anything in return.
But all of us would struggle with generosity if we never benefited from it, right?
So I want you to expect to benefit from your generosity. Just not as a direct transaction or reciprocated interaction with the recipient of your generosity.
Instead, I want you to open your eyes and pay attention to everything around you – to every aspect of your life.
Because I think two things will happen.
First, I think you will discover all the different ways you're blessed. By that I simply mean that you'll open your eyes to see all the unexpected ways positive dynamics appear in your world that you've been taking for granted.
Second, the more you realize how blessed you are, the more you'll be freed up to consider being more generous.
See, before you can become convinced to be generous as a life habit, you have to experience the benefits of it.
So test me on this. Be generous and have an expectation.
Weird huh? Because so many of us are taught to have no expectation. And that sets off our radar. Red flags go up. Or we consider generosity something only the rich can participate in.
But if we step into generosity with expectation, then it feels different. Less risky. (Later, I'll try to introduce you to generosity with wild abandon!)
Let's agree on a definition, when it comes to the generosity I'm talking about. Let's define it as acts without obligation.
Notice I said nothing about money. I said nothing about what kind of acts. Simply that they are actions (not thoughts) and that we choose to do without obligation – on our side, or our recipient's side.
Notice I also say nothing about expectation. You can be generous without having to leave all your self-interest at the door. Just don't put that expectation on the recipient.
Can I give you an example?
I know this won't be a perfect example, but let's look at the dynamics of a young basketball star on his high school team.
When he works really hard during practice, does he expect the team to do anything for him? No.
When he works hard during a game, to win it, does he expect the team to do anything special for him? No.
But does he work hard – during practice and games – with an expectation of benefit? Sure. He hopes a college will notice him and give him a scholarship so his parents won't have to pay for his education.
So his efforts come with expectation but not directly on the recipients that benefit from his efforts.
Now this is a silly example, but it gets my point across. It's a lot easier for us if we step into small acts of generosity without also having to overcome the need to feel altruistic.
So let your self-interest rise to the surface. Embrace it. And step into generosity with expectations – the expectation that it will pay off, in some way, at some point.
Then – and this is critical – keep your eyes open to all the ways that life is good. See if I'm right. See if you aren't leading an incredibly blessed life already. All you needed to do was pay attention to it.
And if you see it pay off more directly than you ever imagined, would you come back and share it with me here?
And if you liked this article, would you do me the small favor of sharing it? I'm excited to introduce my thoughts on generosity to as many people as possible over the course of this month.