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Research and the Bible agree: Generosity is good for you

Generosity, a fundamental virtue of all cultures, finds profound expression in the Bible as benefitting the giver and receiver. New research supports those beliefs.

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Dwight Widaman, Metro Voice Editor

In addition to offering moral instruction, scriptures highlight the value of giving and its tremendous effects on people and communities. Numerous studies have revealed the extraordinary advantages of giving on one’s self-esteem and general well-being, in addition to its spiritual benefits.

The Bible views generosity as more than merely a benevolent deed; rather, it is a manner of life that reflects God’s kindness and compassion. Important verses like Matthew 25:35–36 emphasize the need of giving to people in crisis, whether it is through food, clothing, or companionship. These verses serve as a reminder that being generous is essentially serving God.

The parable of the Widow’s Mite (Mark 12:41–44) is one of the most moving biblical stories illustrating kindness. Jesus praises a beleaguered widow who, despite her meager resources, makes a modest but sincere donation to the temple treasury. This story serves as a reminder that generosity is much more than just giving; it’s about the intention and sincerity behind it.

In a study from Stony Brook University and the University of Chicago, researchers Margaret Echelbarger and Nicholas Epley found that doing good feels good!

The researchers, using a museum in Chicago as their setting, gave 101 children between 4 and 17, and 99 adults, two nice museum pencils. They were told they could keep both pencils or give one away. They asked each participant to predict how a random person would feel if they were given a pencil and how good or bad they themselves would feel if they gave one away. Most adults believed that it would be received positively and make the other person feel good. It was a different matter for the kids. According to researcher Echelbarger, “most of the kids participating in the study underestimated the positive impact of their small act of kindness.”

The vast majority of individuals in the study reported they felt better after giving a pencil to a stranger. The experience was similar to those on the receiving end of the good deed.

The researchers say their findings show the same good feeling applies to the giver and receiver.

The researchers say their findings show the same good feeling applies to the giver and receiver. Sadly, the research also shows that people are reluctant to do good because they don’t understand the positive power of the kind act on the receiver.

Echelbarger goes on to write, “Related research has cast light on the tendency to underestimate just how much others will appreciate many expressions of kindness, such as unexpectedly hearing from a friend or receiving a compliment. People even misunderstand how willing others are to lend a hand with chores like carrying boxes or stepping in to take a picture.”

Consequently, the researchers say this inability to understand just how important the act of giving is begins early in life. “Learning what the social consequences of this failure to appreciate just how big of a deal small acts of kindness are requires more research,” she states.

For people of faith, it is imperative we “train up” children with an expectation and true understanding of the impacts of kindness and generosity on those around them. It goes to the heart of who we are as Christians and our relationship with the Creator.

This view is supported by Hebrews 13:16, which exhorts Christians to remember deeds of kindness and sharing because they are sacrifices acceptable to God. According to this scripture, generosity includes our time, compassion, and willingness to assist others in addition to our money gifts.

A brain region linked to social bonding, trust, and enjoyment is activated when people perform acts of charity

Generosity is supported by other research that shows its beneficial benefits on people’s wellbeing, therefore it is not only a biblical idea. A brain region linked to social bonding, trust, and enjoyment is activated when people perform acts of charity, according to a 2017 study from the University of Zurich. This neuroscientific data reveals that the internal reward of feeling better and more fulfilled is equally as important as the exterior benefit of donating.

Additionally, study results from the University of Notre Dame point to a connection between charity and higher self-esteem. People frequently feel a sense of satisfaction and purpose when they engage in pro-social acts like giving to charitable causes or assisting those in need. This in turn fosters a good self-image and increased self-esteem.

Research also finds that children, and later, young adults, get into less trouble and have far fewer mental health issues when they have a good self-image. Society suffers when self-esteem is in short supply.

But that’s what the Bible was talking about, right?  Generosity serves as a timeless road map for leading a fruitful and meaningful life. It teaches that through helping others, we reflect God’s compassion and love, build up our communities, and experience joy in our deeds.

Thus, generosity, and the feelings that giving and receiving elicit, are qualities that are universal across all eras, cultures, and worldviews, and it has enormous advantages for both the giver and the receiver.

We can feel the transforming power of generosity in our lives as we work to exemplify this virtue.

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice Editor

Image by jcomp on Freepik

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