My friend Mark’s daughter, Julia, is nine. For years she’d been saving money she’d receive from birthday gifts, Christmas and her weekly allowance in a small pink piggy bank. After years of saving, she had $200.
When Julia saw a handmade flyer at a local coffee shop posted by a farmer looking for loving homes for his new puppies, she begged her parents for a dog. Her parents, “dog people,” weren’t opposed to adding a member to the family.
So they decided to visit the farm to meet the puppies. When they did, they all noticed the small farmhouse and the frugal lifestyle of the farmer and his family. The family, struggling to operate a small family-owned farm, clearly did not own much.
That evening, considering the decision, Mark and his wife had a conversation with Julia about the responsibility, hard work and discipline it would take to own a dog. They asked if she was willing to pay for the dog with her own money.
“But,” confused by the request, Julia protested, “the puppies are free.”
“Yes,” Mark affirmed, “we know. But think about all the love and care that farmer and his wife have invested into our puppy’s life already, providing food and water and a warm home to live in. And they don’t have much. Don’t you think it would be nice to give them something even though the puppies are free?”
Confident that a financial investment would help Julia understand the responsibility she was undertaking, Mark asked her to return to her room and think about how much she’d like to offer the farmer. “Just as a sign of our appreciation,” he noted.
Five minutes later Julia came bouncing down the stairs and announced with a smile, “I made my decision. I would like to give him $100 for the puppy!”
Mark, who was thinking $25 would be a nice gesture toward the farmer, was caught off guard by Julia’s generous offer. She was, after all, the saver in the family. And all he really wanted to do was provide her with a little lesson in responsibility.
“Wow,” he marveled, “That’s a really big number. Why don’t you take some more time up in your room to think about whether you really want to give up that much?”
Climbing the stairs more slowly than she’d descended them, Julia dutifully returned to her room to consider her decision.
About fifteen minutes later she returned to her dad.
A bit more sober, Julia explained, “I was thinking about what you said. While I did, I started looking around my room and thinking about this nice house and all the nice stuff we have. And I started thinking about how the farmer’s family has so little. So I’ve changed my mind about how much money I want to give them for the puppy.”
Mark was on the edge of his seat.
“Rather than $100, I want to give them all $200 in my piggy bank.”
All That We Want For Our Children (And for Ourselves)
If you’re able to let go of all the dog food that $200 might have bought, Julia’s decision is a parent’s dream.
I imagine, after the initial gulp in his throat, Mark felt a very specific emotion: Pride. There are few moments in life more heartwarming than seeing our children practice generosity.
And pride is the perfect response in those situations. We all want our kids to find fulfillment and pursue happiness in the right places.
Study after study reports that being generous is one of the quickest paths to satisfaction. Generous people are shown to be healthier, happier and less depressed. They experience a greater sense of self-worth and life fulfillment. And generosity is appealing.
Those who give their time and money and expertise to others never regret it. They discover exactly what Julia did: a better way to live.
Of course, the same generosity that shapes children and fills their hearts with satisfaction does the same thing for adults! When we are generous with our resources, we experience a satisfaction and fulfillment in life that cannot be found anywhere else.
But in a world that works overtime convincing us to spend our money on our own self-interests, we often need to be reminded of the joy in giving. We are bombarded all day long with marketing messages promising we will be happier and more satisfied if we accumulate more and more possessions. But it’s not true. If accumulating things brought lasting happiness, don’t you think we would have found it by now?
Sometimes, it helps to go back into our rooms and quietly consider again the opportunity of generosity.
I want to suggest six benefits to you, and I’d like you to personalize what they mean for you and your family.
If generosity is difficult for you, I want you to insert the word “women,” or “men” or “parents” into the blanks below. If generously releasing what you’ve been given comes more naturally to you, I want you to insert the word “children” in the blank, to consider what generosity can mean as you work to form the discipline into the hearts of children, yours or others.
• Generous ___________ have a healthy understanding of how much they already own.
People who give to those in need quickly realize how much they have to give.
• Generous __________ value what they own.
People who give away possessions hold their remaining possessions in higher esteem. People who give their time make better use of their time remaining. And people who donate money are less wasteful with the money left over.
• Generous __________ live happier, more fulfilled lives.
Studies have shown that generous people are generally happier, healthier, and more satisfied with life. And once they find this satisfaction through generosity, they are less inclined to search for it elsewhere.
• Generous __________ find meaning outside of their possessions.
It is the American way to wrap up self-worth in net-worth… as if a person’s true value could ever be tallied on a balance sheet. Generous people find their value in helping others and quickly realize that their bank statement says nothing about their true value.
• Generous __________ have more fulfilling relationships.
People always enjoy the company of a generous giver to the company of a selfish hoarder. People are naturally attracted toward others who have an open heart to share with others. And a good friend is the best gift you could ever give yourself.
• Generous __________ have less desire for more.
They have found fulfillment, meaning, value, and relationships outside of the acquisition of possessions. They have learned to find joy in what they already possess and give away the rest. In other words, they have found true contentment.
In contrast to what our culture has led us to believe—and yet in radical alignment with what Jesus taught about what we find when we lose our lives—generosity helps us experience what we most want and value.
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:25
In very practical terms: if you’re searching for satisfaction, give something away today! When you do, you open the door for contentment and generosity to collide the way they did for one very satisfied, happy, and generous nine-year-old girl.
Joshua Becker is the author of The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own. He is also the Founder and Editor of Becoming Minimalist, a website that inspires others to find more life by owning less stuff.