I’ve learned some lessons about generosity and its emotional relative, gratitude.
Magnanimous, “great-souled men,” as Aristotle called them, are generous. Generosity is about more than money and material gifts. It’s also expressing admiration, gratitude, love, and sharing knowledge, wisdom, and—if we have some to spare—money and possessions, too.
My friends’ generosity toward me has not involved gifts of money, but rather their time, friendship, support, stimulation, even love—things more valuable than money.
I’m grateful for the generosity of teachers who loved to teach and taught their hearts out for me; the doctors and nurses who were so expert in repairing my broken bones from a collision with a rock while skiing; the friends who coached and advised me and gave me their time and listened to me when I was distressed; those who entertained me and made me laugh; those who inspired and motivated me; employees and colleagues without whom I could not have been successful; those who wrote the books that changed my life. All of these people did something special: they went above and beyond; they did something extraordinary and sometimes extreme; they gave to me generously—abundantly.
Generosity is giving or providing something special in abundance.
I once heard, “You can no more give what you ain’t got, than you can go back to where you ain’t been.” Well, we all have something to give, and if we want to, to give generously.
Some of the most generous people are passionate teachers – they are special. They immerse themselves in their subjects, they thoughtfully prepare their lessons, they provide valuable knowledge, and in some cases they change our lives. We are grateful to and rightly revere such teachers (as I do Leonard Peikoff, in particular).
A friend, a busy judge, had something to give too – his valuable time. He was so moved by the plight of elderly widows who came before him in his courtroom to probate a Will, that he took out time in the evenings to visit them in their homes. He would listen to them and comfort them. When he told me about it, I was deeply moved. I detected his tender satisfaction he got from the time spent with them. Listening, kindness, compliments, admiration, and love are gracious gifts. One of the most generous acts is to give our time, for our time is our life.
Once one feels grateful for an act of generosity, there’s an inclination to reciprocate. Frequently, that’s why generosity given comes right back—sometimes directly, and sometimes indirectly. Acts of generosity tend to go back and forth, in a virtuous cycle. With generosity, then, what goes around truly does come around.
This is what happens when parents lavish each other and their children with gifts of time, love, knowledge, and guidance. As the children grow and mature, and are able to appreciate the love and generosity of their parents, they in turn feel gratitude (finally! 😊) and express love. A loving family is and has to be a generous family.
The world would be a more joyous place if more people practiced generosity.
Appreciation Leads to Gratitude and Love
Sometimes feelings of gratitude are dramatic and instantaneous. Often, though, reflection, contemplation, and conscious thought are required to appreciate something deeply and understand its ramifications and consequences.
At Thanksgiving, I pause and remember my friends’ generosity and relish it. I think about our shared experiences, their help, the fun times, the sad times, the conversations and vacations, working and learning and traveling together, and more. I start to appreciate their generosity to me, and a feeling of gratitude emerges, as the emotional response to all that I appreciated about those people.
I’ve realized that our gratitude flows from appreciation for acts of generosity that benefit us.
Appreciation is vastly expansive. We can practice appreciation all the time—with everyone and everything. We notice. Recognize. Consider. Evaluate. Small things, big things. We can relish experiences, suck up the sweetness from the present, from the past, and from contemplation of future pleasures to come.
I came to understand appreciation in a deeper and more satisfying way when I read Robert Heinlein’s bestselling science-fiction novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, which contributed the term “grok” to our language. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “grok” as: “To understand intuitively or by empathy, to establish rapport with…. to empathize or communicate sympathetically…. to experience enjoyment.” (Emphasis added.)
When we get to know and appreciate a person, we automatically feel some level of affection. When we specifically appreciate their goodness of character and engaging personality, our affection grows. When we discover and appreciate another whose particular character and personality corresponds to our own, a friendship may grow. When we discover another who corresponds to our ideal character and personality, intense romantic love may bloom.
Appreciation is an action—an active thinking process. Only after going through the process of appreciation do I start to feel warmth, affection, respect, admiration, love—and gratitude.
Gratitude is different from appreciation. It is not action, it’s a feeling. It follows from appreciation. Appreciation can be about and for anything and everything—a person, place, experience, thing. But gratitude is for a person (or company—Google, Amazon, etc.), and thus is less common: It is a high-level, exalted emotion.
A friend of mine got a new iPhone as a gift. She was thrilled. She appreciated its look and feel. She appreciated all of its features and the different apps. Then she thought about the person who had bought it for her—just a single person—and she felt gratitude for that person.
I’ve learned that gratitude is an emotional response to an act of generosity. Someone did something special for me. They gave me: a gift, their time, their attention, their knowledge, their advice, their love. My feeling of gratitude arises spontaneously from their generosity.
I’m enormously grateful for the friends who have supported me throughout my life. For some, I have an incalculable debt which could never be computed or repaid. But my response didn’t, and couldn’t, end with just a feeling. I felt a need to express how much I appreciated their generosity to me. Expressing gratitude is not just feeling, it is acting.
This Thanksgiving, I’m expressing my gratitude with this message.
November 22, 2023