As I was reaching adulthood, a popular bumper sticker read “he who dies with the most toys wins”. However, you don’t have to look very far these days to see that “stuff” has not really brought the happiness it promised, even when we organize it all according to one of the latest bestselling books. I wonder if that’s because essential generosity needs to be the bigger focus. Instead of seeking joy by buying (and then celebrating getting rid of) our stuff, we need to seek joy in being generous with those around us.
Several years ago, I came across the story of a woman who found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met a hungry traveller. When she opened her bag to share her food, the traveller saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveller left, rejoicing in his great fortune. The stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime. However, a few days later he returned to the woman, holding out the stone. “I know how valuable the stone is,” he said, “but I give it back in the hope of receiving what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”
In my role at Abundance Canada, I have the privilege of working closely with men and women who are deeply generous and, like the woman with the stone, willing to give without hesitation. While we do help them arrange giving plans that best navigate tax benefits and the ins and outs of legacy gifts, this isn’t what’s at the heart of their giving. Time and again, they demonstrate that they are motivated by a desire to give the first and best of what they have.
I have met families that forgo Christmas and birthday presents so they can donate the money they would have spent to local agencies that ensure others have food and gifts. Several years ago, generosity spread amongst neighbourhood school children. When one boy had his eleventh birthday, he asked his friends and family to give pet food for the local animal shelter instead of gifts for himself. His family had recently adopted a cat and he wanted to help the shelter feed the many other dogs and cats in their care. Shortly after, a friend of his heard about a need for baby formula at the food bank and asked her birthday guests to bring baby formula instead of gifts to the party. When another late-summer birthday came around, the birthday girl asked her friends to bring school supplies and her party activity included packing backpacks for a local agency that helps families in need prepare for the new school year.
Recently, some of my middle-aged friends have asked for donations to their favourite charities in lieu of gifts for milestone birthdays. When many of us are feeling overwhelmed by stuff or know that we have enough, this is an easy way to turn what could be a time of gathering more into a time of giving.
If you want to go further, I know some families who have set a ceiling on their lifestyle. They live comfortably but work hard to live with less than their income might permit. They choose modest homes and vacations. Instead of acquiring more and decluttering later, they enjoy seeing their donations in action now; helping students to pay their tuition, providing people who are struggling financially with food and other supports, helping families move into safe and affordable housing, and assisting communities recovering from disaster.
Choosing generosity means they might never get to take a selfie with perfectly sorted drawers and bags of de-cluttered stuff, but their generosity sparks incredible joy in the world. And yours can, too! Visit Abundance Canada to explore our customizable giving solutions to help you make generosity a bigger focus in your life. Abundance Canada can help.
Sherri Grosz is a gift planning consultant with Abundance Canada, a CRA registered foundation that helps people connect their finances and values with their passion for the charities they care about. Since 1974, Abundance Canada has helped individuals and families across Canada achieve their generosity goals both during their lifetime and through their estate. For more information visit www.abundance.ca.