Happiness For Dummies
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If you act generously to others, shouldn’t you experience the “joy of giving” and be happy with your actions? It depends. If there is a positive motive behind your generosity — for example, compassion — the answer is “yes”. If, on the other hand, your generosity is motivated by a sense of obligation on your part or a need to control others, then the answer is decidedly “no.”

It’s not the thought that counts

When you forget your wedding anniversary and use the excuse that you meant to get your spouse something, but your week just got away from you, don’t believe her when she utters that all-too-familiar phrase, “That’s okay, dear — it’s the thought that counts.” In the real world, intentions don’t count — only actions do.

Even if your wife puts on a happy face, you can bet your last dollar that it’s not the real deal — she isn’t a happy camper!

Everyone is full of good and generous intentions. Most people think about reaching out to others in need, you fantasize about what you would do and how good you would feel afterward — but unless these thoughts reach the point of action, they never do you or anyone else any good.

Giving only because you want to

If you’re going to be generous, make sure it’s for the right reason. Doing for others because you feel you have to rather than because you want to will not make you happy.

Too many people go through life acting on the principle of reciprocity. If someone does you a good deed, you feel obligated to respond in kind. In other words, you’re engaging in reactive generosity. If you’re only giving to people because you feel like you owe them (they had you over for dinner, so you feel you should have them over for dinner), it’ll be obvious to everyone involved.

Why? Because you won’t enjoy the giving — you’ll feel resentful, and that resentment will come out in your behavior.

Stick to giving because you want to, and you’ll never go wrong.

Give without control

How many times have you heard someone say, “After all I’ve done for you, I can’t believe you would act this way”? What that person is saying is, “I’m frustrated because I feel like my generosity hasn’t been rewarded.”

When you give, you need to give without strings attached — you need to be generous without any expectation of reciprocity or payback. True gifts are one-way transactions. They aren’t made out of a sense of obligation, nor do they obligate the recipient.

You may not think you’re doing for others as a way of controlling their behavior, but you may be doing exactly that. If you give someone a gift of money — not a loan but a gift — do you get upset if she spends it unwisely?

Can you hear yourself saying, “If I’d known you were going to spend the money on that, I wouldn’t have given it to you in the first place.” Do you say things like, “That’s the least he could do after I went out of my way to be helpful”?

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

W. Doyle Gentry, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, a distinguished Fellow in the American Psychological Association, and the Founding Editor of the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

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