Does Generosity Pay?

We’re ambitious. Even hungry for success, perhaps!

We work hard.

We read books to learn more about business, psychology and influence.

Every now and then we attend a workshop to put those learned theories in practice. And after work, we go networking. If we talk to enough people, maybe one of them will pull us a few steps up the career ladder.

Carrots and Sticks of Generosity

The key to succeed in networking – as various sources tell us – is to be generous and help others first. Then they will owe us a favor – and will come to help us when we need it.

Generosity is an investment. Give now – reap the rewards later.

As my friend Jakub Šafránek (who blogs in Czech) wrote in his post some time ago:

“Acts of kindness will always pay back, maybe not now, but the more you perform them, the more people will talk about you. You will be building your public image and you will grow as a recognized expert in your field.”

I’m not saying that I disagree, but…

Don’t you find a little strange that whenever generosity is mentioned, we hear about how we’ll profit from it in the long run?

Cookie Experiment

A sunny June afternoon. A large open space office filled with people focused on their computer screens. Some of them my friends, some of them I don’t even know. I hold a package of cookies in my hands.

I’m up for a little experiment and I am a bit nervous. Maybe I’m really pushing the boundaries here? Why do I want to do this in the first place? I’m not really sure. Perhaps out of sheer curiosity. I’m afraid they’ll think I’ve gone nuts. But I really want to do this. I take a few steps forward to the first colleague.

“Hi. Would you like a biscuit?”

“Huh? A cookie, you mean?”, my American colleague gives me a puzzled look (I think I’ll never learn to distinguish between British and American English vocab). “Yes, a cookie”, I answer.

“Definitely, thanks!” she smiles and takes one. I’m not really sure if this is going to help me advance in my career – but at the moment, it feels great. I continue my journey around the office until I run out of cookies.

Have some of those people come to me later and offered me a chocolate in return? Maybe… But that’s not the point!

It’s Chemistry That Makes You Do Nice Stuff

What if being kind & generous is good just for the sake of it?

I know what you’re thinking. “That’s not what they taught at school. I should maximize my utility.”

But what if I told you that it actually is chemistry that makes you feel good when you’re kind or generous?

Pure chemistry – that’s at least how Simon Sinek puts it in his book Leaders Eat Last, when he introduces Oxytocin, one of the “social chemicals”.

Here’s how he describes it:

“Oxytocin is most people’s favorite chemical. It’s the feeling of friendship, love or deep trust. It is the feeling we get when we’re in the company of our closest friends or trusted colleagues. It is the feeling we get when we do something nice for someone or someone does something nice for us.”

Later in the chapter, Sinek shares a story how he was walking on the street and saw a man whose papers fell out of his backpack and got spilled onto the sidewalk. Sinek helped him right away. Here’s how he felt about it:

“That tiny favor, that little expense of time and energy, with no expectation of anything in return, gave me a small shot of oxytocin. It feels good to help people.”

If you need permission from science to be a nice person – here you have it!

Your Own Random Act of Kindness

Not sure where to start?

That’s okay. I might have a tip for you.

Ever heard of the Random Act of Kindness Foundation?

If you were playing with the crazy idea of doing a small, unexpected thing for a friend or even for a complete stranger – this is your ultimate source of inspiration.

From buying coffee for the person in line behind you to getting groceries for your elderly neighbour, there’s a ton of things you can do.

By the way – did you know that the week from 9th to 15th February is world Random Act of Kindness week?

Are you up for doing some nice stuff?

Featured image by Rego Korosi, taken from Flickr, under Creative Commons licence. Brightness of the image adjusted.

4 thoughts on “Does Generosity Pay?

  1. My opinion is that helping others has never been a pure altruism. I identified five reasons why people help others:
    1. We do it because we have been trained to do it and we do it automatically
    2. We do it because we are afraid of the consequence of not helping (karma?)
    3. We do it to let a better impression
    4. We do it expecting something in reward
    5. We do it because it feels good (And it feels good on both sides.) – This is my favorite and it is closest to altruism. Thanks for explaining why it feels good!

    So to conclude, our help never end up unrewarded, right?

  2. Marta, I like especially the reason in point 2: Being afraid of the consequences. It’s like – you need to help your boss, otherwise you might get fired! 🙂

    Yes, it never ends unrewarded – however it’s important to point out what the rewards are – maybe after that we’ll see more kind & generous people around. At least for me, being aware of the “cause and effect” relationship between me helping someone and me feeling good – is a good “niceness accelerator”…

  3. My favourite quote about helping is:
    The best hero is the one you will never hear about.

    Just do good things whenever friend ask me or I see chance of doing something good.
    Giving is good and I like to help and keep that knowledge for myself. If someone asks me
    I will tell him, but otherwise I will keep it for myself.

    I will only from time to time share this quote and my attitude)

  4. Hi Jan!

    I agree with you that it’s a nice approach when you don’t walk around the world bragging about all the amazing things you did!

    As for the quote – I still think it’s good for us to hear about the heroes. Because then they can inspire others to do the same…

    What do you think?

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