Generosity (and a theory of equal and opposite forces)

Back in the depths of last summer (and yes I did say depths – some day I will tell you about how I often view the most vertiginously deep days of summer with the same fallow fears others have about midwinter) I developed a philosophy of equal and opposite forces. Even though the summer would, in the end, turn out to be entirely redemptive, and would give me a glorious brand new life that I still can’t quite believe is mine, the journey through it was, for lots of reasons, incredibly challenging. And so I decided that the only way was to meet each difficult thing with a good thing, and the worse the difficult thing was, the better the good thing had to be in response.

This February I find myself revisiting the idea, though with very different motivations. Because if January was about understanding what wealth means to me, it follows that February is teaching me about generosity. And I’ve learned that, if I am truly honest with myself, I have not been as generous as I would like to be in my life. Though it’s also important to underline that I say this without a whiff of self-criticism or even false modesty; I am simply being transparent about the motives that drive most of us as human beings – on a very basic level we all have to be self-centred to survive, especially through hard times.

And so I have been consciously trying to be more generous. Even at those times when my hunter-gatherer brain fears scarcity. Especially at those times my hunter-gather brain fears scarcity. The philosophy is quite simple: when I feel that I need something, instead of immediately attempting to somehow take (buy, consume, hustle for) it, I attempt to give something of equivalent value away instead. Possessions, time and love all work equally well here. And it works best, of course, as a regular practice, a discipline – kind of like meditation, you know? Especially for beginners like me.

I realise it’s hard to talk about this sort of idea without it sounding like a terrible, clichéd humblebrag. But what I’m discovering actually couldn’t be further from that sort of murky feigned altruism. What I’m finding is entirely self-serving. Because what I’m being shown is that whenever I give something away it is always met by an unexpected (and yet poetically obvious) gift of equal and opposite generosity in return. And what’s more, when I look around at my life I realise that far from things being scarce, I have a limitless amount left to give. And that discovery feels as rich as gold.