A 23-year-old investment banker gives half of his income away rather than saving or spending his earnings. A couple in their 70s gives away their retirement nest egg. A father can’t fully cover his kids’ college expenses because his family has been so generous to charities through the years. A woman of modest means gives away her car savings fund to a widow in need. An entrepreneur gives his company away.
I’ve met each of the people described above, and dozens more like them, and there is one surprising trait they all share. They are shockingly happy! As a mentor of mine puts it, “I’ve never met an unhappy generous person.” I had always considered myself generous, but these radical givers, along with the joy and freedom they somehow seemed to possess, made me question what I was missing.
Why is it that examples of radical generosity are surprising? A host of scientific and sociological research indicates that giving money away— especially in a generous and open-handed way — makes us both healthier and happier. Yet, in contrast to the radical examples above, most Americans give virtually no money away.
I’ve met hundreds of people who give 20 percent, 30 percent, or even 50 percent of their income away every year. In a world where most people barely give at all, what would compel someone to take such a huge fraction of their earning power and literally give it away, sometimes anonymously, to people they’ve never met?
The vast majority of us, numbed over time by emotional funding appeals and moral lectures on why we’re obligated to support this cause or that one, have been hardened into cynicism. Those of us in this camp view giving money away as just one more “should” on a long list of things we know we ought to do. For us, generosity becomes an act characterized by duty, guilt, and obligation.
Next time you think about giving, don’t start with morals, duty, or obligation. Start by pondering the generosity of God.
Needless to say, these are not very effective or sustainable motivators. It’s no wonder that generosity born out of this frame of mind is limited, and does not become a significant source of joy. This was certainly true in my life early on, as my wife and I gave 5-10 percent of our gross income away, driven by a sense of moral duty. To be honest, we were halfway happy to be givers, but halfway annoyed that our giving was keeping us from saving more for retirement!
However, the elite corps of radical, joyful givers that I’ve encountered, who give out of their Christian worldview, have found a very different power source for their generosity. They view all human generosity as a free, open-handed, and joyful response to the generosity of God. The most famous Bible verse of all time, easily recited by hundreds of millions of people, claims that “For God so loved the world, he gave his one and only Son.”
Generosity is the heartbeat of the Christian faith, and Christian givers are often the ones cheerfully leading the charge in giving across the nation.
By focusing their hearts on God’s generosity, and practicing daily gratitude, these radical givers simply reflect back to God what they say is already His to begin with.
Instead of viewing giving as something we should do, they view giving as something we get to do. Instead of duty, guilt, and obligation, their generosity is characterized by freedom, joy, and a sense of purpose. In fact, they love giving so much that, instead of asking “How much should I give?” — which assumes the default setting is to keep money for themselves, they ask “How much should I keep?” They put the burden of proof on keeping money, with a heart-level bias toward giving away as much as they can.
As my wife and I began to understand the proper source of generosity, our giving took off, and has been north of 20 percent of our income in recent years. Our mortgage isn’t paid off, we still have student loans, and we have three little children. And yet, with this new frame of mind our giving has felt so joyfully easy! We wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Compared to any objective measure, we are comfortable and wouldn’t consider ourselves to be living a sacrificial lifestyle. We also understand that life is not a linear journey, and there may come a time when we’ll have to give less. But we’re thrilled to be on this journey, learning and growing with others. We’re on a journey of growth, and the journey is changing us in significant ways for the better.
So, next time you think about giving, don’t start with morals, duty, or obligation. Start by pondering the generosity of God. If you let yourself get lost in it, you might end up giving more than you knew you ever could; your heart overflowing with joy, freedom, and purpose.