At ninety-one years old, my client is having the time of her life—and not just because she keeps joking with everyone in her nursing home by telling them that I’m her lover. No, Irene is having more fun than ever because, late in life, she’s made a discovery. It took a long time to realize it, but my client is basking in the warmth that we can only experience when we practice generosity.
For whatever reason, Irene had never had the confidence to make any big gifts to the things she cared about. A few years ago, I decided to mention the subject.
“Irene,” I said, “you are not going to outlive all this money. What do you want to be remembered for after you’re gone?”
She didn’t hesitate. She told me she was passionate about the local library and the computer lab they wanted to build for the neighborhood.
“Write the check,” I said.
Irene did write that check, and many more as well. Over a six week period, she gave away over sixty thousand dollars. When the new computer lab opened, they named it after Irene, and she began to see her legacy grow in ways she hadn’t imagined. Words cannot describe how proud I felt of her. She was stretching outside of her comfort zone and discovering something wonderful.
Soon after, we sat down over tea and I said, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you gave away almost one hundred thousand dollars last year. The bad news is that your portfolio made two hundred fifty thousand. You’re getting behind!”
She beamed. “I’m so glad I’m doing this,” she said.
The Prelude to Happiness
If Irene had the opportunity to go back in time, I know she would have started practicing generosity decades earlier. Like with so many of these Living a Rich Life blogs, my goal is to share these observations with you now, so that you don’t have to spend most of your life without their rewards. And with generosity, the reward is clearly joy. In almost two decades of helping people with their finances, I have yet to meet an unhappy generous person. They tend to be the most energetic and joyful people in their circle of friends. I hear comments about them like, “What is it about her that makes her so happy?” Really, what people are asking is, “What have they discovered, and how can I have it, too?” In my experience, it is more about rediscovering something that you have always had.
Impulse Number One
I’ve come to believe that when people see an opportunity to make a difference, their first impulse is generosity. I’m sure you have felt it before. When we recognize a real barrier that we have the resources to lift, we feel compelled to help.
I believe we are hardwired to be generous. That is why we feel so alive and so human when we are generous. That is why when we watch A Christmas Carol, something in our heart leaps when Scrooge becomes the generous benefactor to all the people he had been ignoring or detesting. This hardwiring towards giving is apparent even when we are very young. It never ceases to amaze and delight me that on Christmas morning, my kids’ favorite moments are when they give presents to me and my wife. They can’t wait to see the look on my face when I open the pair of gloves or slippers they picked out for me. That joy of giving to others awakens in us during this season we are about to enter.
For all of the joy and gratitude and tangible change that generosity brings, many people don’t follow the urge. Some ignore it their entire lives. Why? See, generosity works like a circuit breaker and there are a number of mindsets that determine whether it stays in the on position. The signal gets cut off as the impulse to help leaves our heart and hits our brain. The thoughts we have about ourselves and about others stop that signal, and we choose to pass on the opportunity. We’ll take a look at those breakers, and how to turn them back on, next time.
Wherever you find yourself in your financial journey, I hope you choose to experience the rewards of generosity. Generosity is not just about charity. Generosity is about having an opportunity to use your resources to positively impact someone else’s life. Opportunities are all around us, and when we see those opportunities, I believe that generosity is our first impulse.
By the way, if you are enjoying the ideas we cover in this blog, keep your eye out for my book that is coming out this fall. It is called Living a Rich Life: The No Regrets Guide to Building and Spending Wealth. It is currently available for pre-order. Click here to order it today.
James Lenhoff is the president of Wealthquest, a Cincinnati-based financial planning and wealth management firm that offers a full range of financial services under one roof, for one simple fee.