How To Be Generous When You Have Nothing

Do you ever wake up hours before your alarm is due to go off? I do.

Once I’m awake, I can pretty much assume I won’t be going back to sleep. Just like how a child will run into its parents’ bedroom at 5am and make noise until they give it the attention they crave – my mind being the child.

But it’s not a cute child. It’s a mean, egoic voice, telling me all kinds of mean things about myself. The harder I try to sleep, the nastier it gets.

So I get up. Water. Pills. Coffee. And then I pick up my purple A4 journal. Since I should be asleep, I’ve technically gained a few hours – I might as well use them productively, to try and figure out why I feel so rotten inside.

I aim for 3 pages of A4 – an idea I stole from Julia Cameron – and by the time I’ve done that, I always feel ‘better’, even if I never really got to the bottom of what was bothering me.

This morning it took about half a page for me to work out exactly what was bothering me. And I didn’t like what I found.

I realised just how much of a stingy bastard I’d become.

How generous are you?

That’s not an easy question. But believe it or not, there is a correct answer.

We’re different people at different times, sure. But whilst there are certainly moments in life where you find yourself being more or less generous – you might be lavish with your cash yet stingy with your time, for example – you have an overall average level of comfort when it comes to being generous, and this tends to remains pretty constant over time.

Think of this as a line extending from ‘Not Generous At All’ on the left, to ‘Extremely Generous’ on the right. Somewhere along that line is you.

If you’re all the way over to the left, you do not feel you have very much to give anyone. You fear that if you were to give away the little you do have, you’d end up with even less than you started with. Not being an idiot, your natural tendency is therefore to be stingy – to hoard what little you do have, in the name of protecting it.

Right at the other end of the line, you feel totally secure, completely comfortable, and incredibly abundant. Since you know that you have more than enough of whatever you need, you are naturally quite happy to spread it around and let other people have a slice.

Where would you place yourself on this line?

Why are some people more generous than others?

Is it simply because some of inequality? That some people have more to be generous with, and therefore they are? It’s tempting to believe this.

You want to believe that it’s easier to be generous with your money if you’re rich, easier to be generous with your friendship when you have more friends, and easier to be generous with your time when you have a lot on your hands.

You want to believe that if you suddenly became £1,000,000 richer than you are right now, that you would also become more generous, because now you could better ‘afford’ to be.

But you’d be completely and utterly wrong.

Your position on that line has nothing to do with what you actually have – or don’t have – and instead everything to do with conscious choice.

What do you choose to do with what you have? Do you hold on to it for dear life, or do you happily give it away?

What you have or do not have makes absolutely no difference to your ability to be generous. But it sure as fuck doesn’t feel that way, does it?

Expand your definition

If you’d like to be more generous, then let’s face facts – feeling you don’t have enough is going to hold you back, no matter how much or how little you have.

You cannot be generous with what you do not have. But the good thing is that you don’t need to.

The problem is that you are looking at generosity through a keyhole, instead of opening the door and seeing the whole room.

All oranges are fruits, but not all fruits are oranges. Generosity goes way beyond the material. More than anything, it is a posture. An attitude. A way of being the world. To be generous is to have a generous spirit.

So what do you do if you feel you don’t have enough to be generous with?

Find the things you do have

I’ll give you an example.

Right now, I don’t have as much money as this time last year. I quit my job in the summer because I wanted to move on. We’re getting by. But currently, money is not something I can be lavish with.

Does that mean I can’t be generous? Fuck no.

I have a lot of time spare time.

I have the ability to string sentences together, so I can write pieces like this that might help people.

I have my musical abilities, so I can play gigs and busk and entertain people. And I can show other people how to play instruments.

But even if you took away all those things, I’ve still plenty to work with.

I have my ears – I could find somebody who simply needed someone listen to them.

I have my mouth – I could go for a walk and try to smile and say hello to everyone I passed.

I have my gratitude – I could send somebody a text to tell them I appreciate something about them.

For everything you feel you don’t have – and therefore cannot afford to be generous with – believe me, you have more than enough of something else that you could be putting to work.

When you feel as though something is missing in your life, you’re damn right it is. You are not giving enough of yourself.

In every moment lies the opportunity to be generous.

But… why bother?

I’m a fairly selfish person. I don’t particularly relish doing things that won’t benefit me in some way.

But I don’t preach generosity – and try to live it in my own life – because I heard someone else say it. Or because I’d like for it to be true. Or because I’m some saint who wants to teach the world to sing.

I do it because the more generous I am, the better MY LIFE gets. How?

Life doesn’t feel like a struggle. I go to bed feeling beautifully empty. Things that I would normally feel responsible for and stress out over work themselves out. People text or email me with opportunities. PEOPLE BECOME MORE GENEROUS WITH ME!

Please don’t take my word for any of this. Test it out.

Right now, your ego is trying to convince you that you don’t have enough to give yet. You do. You have plenty. You just need to look for it. And then give it away. You’re not going to run out.

It’s impossible to run out of anything that matters.

What are you going to be more generous with?

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