Generosity: A key to happiness?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 Permalink

Domonique Bertolucci’s eighth key to happiness relates to the principle of generosity. In her book The Happiness Code, she reminds us however that:

“Being generous is not just about the decisions you make with your wallet. Being generous with your time and energy is just as important.”

Most of us lead busy lives. People work, have families and other commitments as well as houses and bodies to maintain. Sometimes throwing money at a problem is the easy option.

There are some things we CAN buy: certainly when I worked, having someone clean my house for 2hrs a fortnight was a most-excellent investment of $60! And having someone babysit your kids for a few hours so you have some time to yourself can be well worth it.

However affection and respect come at much higher prices.

Although it may not seem like it in the short-term, spending time with our kids and focussing our attention on them (not talking on our mobile phone, or checking emails/Twitter) can reap far better returns than throwing money at them as a distraction. Similarly, being patient and listening to great aunt Myra retell the story of her childhood is far more generous than interrupting to inform her you’ve heard it all before. Certainly as someone whose father had dementia; listening to his tales, answering his repeated questions and resisting the urge to become frustrated was incredibly hard; but important.

“Give the people you love the best of yourself, not the worst.”

“If you are generous in your relationships,” Bertolucci says, “you will receive as much as you give.”

She recommends against ‘transactional’ relationships. You know the kind. I rang him last time, so it’s his turn to ring me. Or, I did the dishes last night, she has to do it tonight! 

Oh yes, I’m sure most of us have been there. I certainly have.

If, however, we find ourselves CONSTANTLY keeping tabs, she suggests we remember that we do not exist in isolation. They may well be remembering last month when they did the dishes four nights in a row! Or they may just not like talking on the phone (HELLO – obvious self-interest there in case any of my friends read this!).

“Everyone has a different journey in life. Don’t judge someone else for theirs.”

And when Bertolucci talks about us acknowledging our good luck and being generous to the less-fortunate; again she again says it’s about more than money. Before we judge others, she suggests, we consider the opportunities we’ve had that others may not have experienced.

Oops. Again.

Yes, I’ve been there. I say I’m non-judgemental, but if I’m really honest I’m non-judgemental about people’s sexuality or religion or the like. I DO make judgements about people (and even little sarcastic comments in my own mind) when it comes to others’ clothing or grammar or taste in TV shows. For example. Sometimes.


Bertolucci lists ‘parenting’ as a particularly sensitive area. Indeed I’ve just spent the last few days with one of my best friends (we go back 27 years) and a new friend. Both are parents and were discussing the difficulties they face and agreed that they’d be loath to try to tell others what to do.

I’ve gained weight over the last six months, but still sometimes make judgements about other ‘bigger’ people. I see them eating incredibly unhealthy foods in public and shake my head. And yet…. I eat equally bad foods at times. In secret.

So… who is the more mentally fucked-up I wonder?!

Bertolucci recommends against judging anyone – including ourselves!

She reminds us that most people are doing their best, most of the time.

I’m loving this recurring theme. Dissing perfection in preference for ‘the best we can be’ and ‘trying our hardest’.

It seems obvious doesn’t it. “Just try your best.” We say that to children ALL of the time. And yet… how many of us are generous enough to believe it ourselves?

Are you generous with your time and energy? How could you improve?
Do you secretly judge others? Or yourself?





  • Char
    January 22, 2013

    I definitely judge people. In my head I’m incredibly rude, impatient and down-right nasty at times. I can be judgemental about food choices when the eater is over-weight but funnily, when I get to know them I don’t judge. It’s like it’s okay to judge strangers but you never judge friends. I know – I’m perverse.

    I love to give, though. It’s usually in the form of cupcakes (again – perverse like my cupcakes have no calories by KFC does?!) And I love to give to people who I know have been doing it a bit tough. Like if all of their kids came down with the vomits or if their husband had to have an aneurysm operated on. This brings me so much pleasure to feel like I’ve made their load a little lighter or that they felt cared for.

    • Debbish
      January 22, 2013

      I think we must all judge ‘in our heads’ and yes, I’m the same once I know something… though I might sometimes still make judgments but ‘judge and accept’ sort of thing.

      I hope (for example) my friends know I hate talking on the phone and they may complain about me never, ringing, think me a slacker, but understand and accept it!

      And – cupcakes as gifts – just lovely!

  • Jess
    January 22, 2013

    I love this “be generous with your time not just your money”. Very easy at times to throw money at something and not really think about making the world a better place.

    I try not to be judgmental but I definitely have my moments. I hate the feeling of knowingly being judged so I really don’t want to be the one dishing out the judgments.

    As a parent I can totally agree with your friend’s. People can be quick to pass judgment on your parenting, but most of us are just trying to do our best. And kids have good days and bad days. Usually they time the bad days for the public arena when you have a lot to do!

    • Debbish
      January 22, 2013

      Jess, my ‘old’ friend has three kids (aged 3-7yrs) and she commented that each are very different and respond to different types of parenting etc. She said she’s learned by trial and error over the years as well!

      And yes… any judgment. I used to get tired of people judging me because I was overweight – as I’d always been pretty sporty and coordinated – but because I was big, people would (still do) assume I’m not athletic, which isn’t always the case!

  • Marion
    January 22, 2013

    Hi Deb! My current post is about this very same subject!

    One of the biggest life changers for my health was getting more supportive friends. People have given so much to me, so I return the favor to others. There is a world where people really care about each other, and we can live beside it or in it. I choose to live in it, and receive so much joy from my transactions with others. Just an inch of support can really matter to another person.

    I love knowing that many people are happy to see me walk into the gym–because just seeing me there makes their fitness experience a little better. How awesome is that?!!!

    🙂 Marion

    • Debbish
      January 22, 2013

      Marion, you often talk about the support you provide others at the gym and I’m always really impressed with that commitment to helping others!


  • jules
    January 23, 2013

    I learned this lesson years ago…that is when I changed my generosity beyond my wallet. BIG changes….complete turnaround. NOW its just learning to be that generous with myself…

    • Debbish
      January 23, 2013

      I didn’t say so i the blog post, but I like to ‘think’ I’m generous with others. Any lack of generosity is more because of apathy or mind-f*ckedness than lack of intent (I’m prone to need time alone and hibernate from time to time!).


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