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On Generosity

I recently organized a gathering at my house. It was a collection of people I knew who were all engaged in some kind of service work in the world. I’d been wanting for some time a space where people could come together to renew and gather inspiration and ideas from others who are doing good work in the world.

At this meeting we had the pleasure of the company of Nipun Mehta. Nipun has been devoting himself to the practice of generosity and kindness for the past 15 years. He founded a group that has met weekly for 14 years where people come together to share in the spirit of generosity (see awakin.org). He has started organizations like ServiceSpace.org that have service as central to their mission, and Pay it Forward projects – where people have their meal in a restaurant paid by people before them and in turn they pay it forward for upcoming guests inspiring spontaneous generosity.

It is a generosity practice to me that is inspired by the slogan – practice random acts of kindness. I often imagine a world where generosity – not hoarding and scarcity – are the qualities people lead with and how radically that would change society and our individual relationships. The Buddha often said one feels three wholesome fruits in the process of giving – one feels good simply thinking about it, in the act of doing it, and reflecting on past kind actions. It is a simple way to sense our own goodness.

For myself I’m often looking for places to give and to practice those random acts of kindness, whether its paying for people’s toll behind me or showing up for a friend in need, or even the simple act of seeing and appreciating someone. The acts of generosity that often touch us are the most simple. They also make us feel connected, and realize we all have much to offer each other.

It is also a reminder that generosity is a powerful seed for happiness. In one psychological research project, people in two groups were given $20 each. One group was told to spend it on themselves, the other group to give it away to a stranger. The group that was encouraged to be generous felt much happier in comparison to the other group.

So I write this partly as a reminder for all of us to realize we have so much and to look for ways we can extend ourselves and thus build connection to each other, inner happiness, and a culture of generosity that simple keeps on flowing.

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