I recently read an article in the Reader’s Digest about what it takes to have a successful marriage. The author was a psychologist who had been married for over 35 years and had compiled a list of attributes needed for success. Among them was one that I thought interesting. It was that generosity may be the key to happiness.
That statement stuck in my mind for a bit, and I contemplated on how I might interpret what the author meant by “generosity” when referring to it being a key to happiness in a marriage. Surely the author didn’t mean that money could buy you happiness, did she?
But as I thought more about it, it reminded me of a book I had read several years ago titled, “The Five Love Languages” by author Gary Chapman (Northfield Publishing, 2004). In the book, Chapman suggests that every person has one primary and one secondary love language. And, that through an individual’s love language is where they actually experience love. But the problem is that, two people may not experience love in the same way, because they hold a different type of love language. A person tends to express love to another by how they would expect love expressed to them, in their own love language, but the other person might not recognize it.
As I thought about Chapman’s five love languages, I realized that all five are rooted in generosity. For example, one of the five is, “acts of service.” Performing an act of service for your partner might be something as simple as doing the dishes, or helping with the laundry, or cleaning the house, or preparing a meal. These simple acts of service might really run the steam up in your partner’s train whistle, if their primary love language is “acts of service.”
But on the other hand, if that partner’s primary and secondary love language was one of the other four, and not acts of service, it probably would have little to no effect in the relationship because it didn’t really “speak” the language that creates an experience of love in that person.
Now, my point here is not to try and give advice on what it takes to have a happy marriage, but rather to draw a parallel between love and generosity. And that, generosity may be the key to happiness in all relationships, and not just marriage. A simple Google search for “keys to happiness” will reveal that studies show that happiness is not about in what we receive, but rather in what we give. Happiness is created when we are willing to give of ourselves, be it time, talent, or treasure, to others that are willing to receive our gifts. It’s also about having compassion for others and wanting to give something to make someone’s life a little better. Quite often, that something is just our time.
In fact, I even read a report from a clinical study that showed there is a neurological link between generosity and happiness, and how our brain reacts to generosity. And, the more generous a person’s habits are, the happier they become.
So how do we take this information and process it? How do we start to actually become happier through generosity? Why is it we generally don’t feel happier when we put our money into the offering tray on Sunday mornings? Why does it just feel like we are being constantly asked to give to this church program, or that church program, or this charity organization or that charity organization, and we don’t really feel too happy about doing it? Why is it that most often we give out of obligation, and not out of desire?
I think the answer is because we don’t have a real connection with the receiver. We have been missing the “relationship” part of this equation. Remember what we are talking about? Generosity is the key to happiness in all relationships. If we take the relationship out of it, there is no experience of happiness because our brain is not connecting to something that doesn’t exist. Maybe that’s where churches are going wrong when asking for tithes and contributions. Perhaps there needs to be a way to let folks give directly to the recipient so that the relationship can occur, and then the giver will experience that happiness through their generosity.
I think that the happiness starts when we create a new relationship with someone, and our generosity is both a result and a desire from that new creation.
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face … Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good…” (Genesis 1:1-4, NRSV).
The entire creation is made by God as an ongoing and living expression of God’s immeasurable generosity without limits. We constantly are amazed with discoveries of the created world that reveal a scale of generosity beyond our comprehension. Every act of your generosity is also an act of creation. Generosity brings into being conditions and effects that did not exist previously. Generosity is always an agent of creation, change, and transformation. When we share in acts of generosity, we not only share in the nature of God, but we become co-creators in making visible the work of love. (Pathway to Abundant Generosity, pg. 6, Community of Christ)
And that then, I believe is it. That every act of generosity is also and an act of creation. It is creating the new tangible things, the new relationships, is what really makes us happy. And every time we are generous, we are creating something new. But if we cannot see, feel, or touch that new creation, we are not experiencing any sort of relationship with our gift. It is only when we are in that newly created relationship is where generosity really becomes the key to happiness.
“And then on the seventh day, God took a look around and said to himself, ‘Wow, look at all of this new creation, all of these new relationships, all of these acts of generosity. This has made me very happy. But, now I am tired, so I think I will rest.'” (Genesis 1:31, 2:1, Paraphr.).
“If you want to have happiness, be kind to the poor;…(Proverbs 14:21, GNT)