During this quadrennium (2017-’21) I am privileged to serve on the General Board of the Church of the Nazarene. There are approximately 50 persons on the board from around the world, equally divided between clergy and laity.
In the plenary sessions we are seated in alphabetical order. To my right is Benjamin Lange from Mozambique, and to my left is Michael Johnson from Nashville, TN. Knowing that Michael has been diligently working on a Doctorate of Education degree, I asked some questions, including the theme of his research and dissertation. He answered that the project includes studying the relationship between generosity, satisfaction in life and overall well-being among a select group of people.
I smiled and said, “Well, that’s interesting. I have been assigned to preach on generosity this next Sunday.”
By the time my plane touched down in Dayton, Michael had sent me a book, via Amazon Kindle (quite generous of him) titled The Paradox of Generosity. In this book is the result of a survey of 2,000 Americans and 40 in-depth interviews. While not a religious book, the findings sound like sociological scientific proof of the words of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Here’s a sampling:
* “Very happy” Americans volunteer nearly 10 times the amount of “very unhappy” Americans in a given month (5.8 hours versus 36 minutes).
* Those who practice “neighborly generosity” (having friends and family to their home, helping neighbors with work projects at their home, watching other persons’ children, etc., on a regular basis) were dramatically happier than those who only do so a few times a year.
* Those who practice financial generosity have lower levels of the hormone cortisol in their bodies. Increased levels of cortisol is linked to “wear and tear” on the body.
A summary of the survey’s findings is found in this insightful paragraph:
“Rather than generosity producing net losses, in general the more generously people give of themselves, the more of many goods they receive in return. Sometimes they receive more of the same kind of thing that they gave – money, time, attention and so forth. But, more often and important, generous people tend to receive back goods that are even more valuable than those they gave: happiness, health, a sense of purpose in life and personal growth.”
With these findings being so, the only surprise is more persons are not generous. From the surveys and interviews they reported, “A lot of Americans are indeed very generous – but even more are not.”
Generosity is counter-intuitive. So are many of the teachings of Jesus, including his declaration that “He who tries to save his life will lose it, but he who gives his life away, for my sake and the gospel will save it.” So, learning to live generously likely will require us to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds.”
So … where are you on the generosity scale? Your own happiness may be an indicator.