Building Healthy Relationships: The Habits of Generosity

Ed Bacon in The 8 Habits of Love says, when we live with a generous spirit, it is amazing to watch the opportunities to love that come our way. Generosity involves empathy, compassion, transparency, and the ability to listen. When we are generous with those we love, we give them our full attention when they speak. Yes, generosity may end with actions, but it begins with an attitude of the heart; when we generously give our whole selves, we show others how much we value them.

Every human being is wired to be loving, accepting, compassionate, and forgiving. But life can get in the way; we hit roadblocks; we shut down and respond to fears that overshadow our more loving human traits. When we shrug off our negativity and insecurity, when we no longer compete for what others have, and open our hearts to the dreams and values of others, we dwell in the spirit of generosity. Consider the following approaches to giving the gift of generosity:

The gift of time is one of the most important things we can give someone; to give someone your time is to give them a portion of yourself. The receiving person may never know your sacrifice, but the time you give is a powerful expression of love. To love people is to be willing to give your time to get to know them by inquiring about their family relationships, career, social interests, and health. And as you spend time with people, you discover their needs and desires. We cannot give the gift of time to everyone, but we can give the gift of time to someone every day.

Asking questions of someone is one of the most loving ways of relating. Ask older people to tell stories of historical events; learn from others by asking what it was like the first time they fell in love, saw the sun set into the ocean, first saw their first-born child, started their first job, or won their first athletic event. When you take the time to ask good questions, you truly connect with someone’s experiences. Asking inquiring questions shows that you value the other person.

Almost everyone we encounter is struggling in some way; the trouble may be poor health, a damaged relationship, job or financial stress, or feelings of low self-esteem or depression. Offering the gift of emotional support through a listening ear can go a long way toward bringing hope to individuals. The blessings of generosity can come in many forms – it can be the silent, unpreoccupied presence of another, the willingness to show patience, deflecting the spotlight, or something as simple as a sincere compliment.

It is easy to think we don’t need to be purposeful about spending time with those we live with because we see them every day. But being generous in offering our time to our families is an important step in being generous; children and spouses long for this expression of love. We often think we will just get through the next couple of months and then change how we use our time. But how we spend our time each day is, of course, how we spend our lives. When we cultivate a generous spirit, we become more aware of investing time in the most important thing, which may not be the thing that appears to be the most urgent.

Unfortunately, the fear of scarcity can lead us to live lives of self-absorption, making generosity challenging. We fear diluting our own power or losing what we need more of for ourselves – more money, more acclaim, more attention, or more love. When we concentrate too much on what we need and what we do, we forget the value of the people we encounter every day. Generosity moves our minds and hearts out of the ruts they fall into and brings us back to relationships. One of the most satisfying, joy-filled choices we can make is to “get a life” full of generosity, gratitude, and beauty of giving ourselves away for the sake of relationships. Generosity invites us to focus on something larger than ourselves.

Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we earn, we make a life by what we give.”

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