Sociologist Christian Smith’s study on generosity yielded this observation: “People rightly say that money cannot buy happiness. But money and happiness are still related in a curious way. Happiness can be the result, not of spending more money on oneself, but rather of giving money away to others. . . . The data examined here show this to be not simply a nice idea, but a social-scientific fact.”
Sure, receiving a gift is great, and our hearts should be full of praise to God for what He has given us—first and foremost His Son, but also thousands of other smaller gifts we seldom think about. We should be profoundly grateful for what others have given us too. But have you ever worked hard to find the perfect gift for someone you love? Or thrown a surprise party for someone or given them tickets to a concert or game? Or given a bag of groceries to a person in need? Don’t you get great happiness in the planning and giving of that gift? And isn’t your joy multiplied by the receiver’s joy?
No Greater Privilege
The thought that giving makes us happier than receiving seems counterintuitive. What could be better than receiving a gift? Don’t we love Christmas and our own birthdays? Isn’t it fun to get a package in the mail?
Once, I received a totally unexpected gift of a framed black-and-white photograph of me sitting at a desk in 1985, in front of my first book and my first computer (a Kaypro, for those over fifty who remember or care). My friend tracked down and bought the photo, taken by a photographer from the local paper more than thirty years ago.
Looking at the photo was like time traveling, and it brought back a flood of memories. Did my joy in receiving negate what Jesus said? No, because when I contacted the woman who had given it to me, she told of her utter delight in finding, framing, and sending it to me. As much as I enjoyed receiving it, she seemed to enjoy giving it even more. And though I’ve received a lot of great gifts over the years, many of those that make me smile the most are those I’ve given to my wife, daughters, friends, people I met in a store or on a plane, and even people I haven’t met who have received food, clothes, clean water, and the gospel through organizations my family and I have supported.
If we understand what Scripture says about how giving touches lives for eternity, stores treasures for us in Heaven, and brings us great happiness here and now, we’ll realize there’s no greater privilege than to live lives of overflowing love and joyful generosity. It’s a no-brainer.
The Payoff of Loving Jesus and Others
On a trip to Ukraine, my pastor friend and I spent the evening with a large family, feasting and singing hymns and laughing and exalting Jesus together. We felt bad when we learned our hosts had served an entire month’s ration of butter at the meal, but we were assured there was nothing they would rather have done than open their hearts and home to brothers in Christ. It was humbling to be served when we had envisioned ourselves going to serve them. Giving is a great equalizer among God’s people.
To the selfish person, the giver’s behavior appears foolish and against his best interests. (Why part with a month’s ration of butter to serve rich visitors who have unlimited amounts of butter at home?) Scripture says the opposite: “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty” (Proverbs 11:24, NIV). The Message puts it this way: “The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.”
I’ve certainly known generous people who were facing serious problems, but I’ve never known a generous soul—of any income level—who was chronically unhappy. Sure, we all struggle with life’s tough circumstances. But I’ve found in life what studies confirm: even in hard times, loving, generous people always default not only toward gratitude but happiness. That wonderful Ukrainian family might have missed their butter, but the payoff of loving Jesus and us by showing hospitality was, to them, a far greater treasure.See more resources on money and giving, as well as Randy's related books, including Managing God's Money and Giving Is the Good Life.