24 One gives freely, yet grows all the richer;
another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.
25 Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,
and one who waters will himself be watered.
26 The people curse him who holds back grain,
but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it.
Proverbs 11:24-26, ESV
The biblical principle that believers would be bless by giving more runs counter to the worldly wisdom of happiness is by gaining more. According to the worldly wisdom, the more we possess, the happier we would be. The less we have, the less happy we would be. Instances of selfish behavior also abound in society. Our culture has taught us that serving our desires would lead us to greater happiness. Some of the most famous brands’ slogan would say “Just Do It” (Nike), “Have it your way” (Burger King), “Because you’re worth it” (L’OREAL), “Save money. Live better” (Walmart), or “Obey your thirst” (Sprite).
One recent study used a version of the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma tested people’s willingness to set aside selfish interests to reach a greater good. After modeling different strategies and outcomes, the researchers found that being selfish was more advantageous than cooperating 1. Thus, humans have tendencies to be more greedy than generous. The science, however, has proven otherwise.
Many studies point to the possible positive effects of generosity for the giver. Giving social support (such as time, energy, or goods) is associated with better overall health in older adults, and volunteering is associated with delayed mortality. Generosity appears to have strong associations with psychological health and well-being. For example, a meta-analysis of 37 studies of older adults found that those who volunteered reported greater quality of life; another study found that frequent helpers reported feeling greater vitality and self-esteem (but only if they chose to help of their own accord). Other studies have shown a link between generosity and happiness. Some studies have found that people are happier when spending money on others than on themselves as this happiness motivates them to be generous 2.
God, of course, has known this and that’s why He inspired Solomon to write those proverbs. He wired this trait unto us because we were made in His image. Not only did God give us a sense of satisfaction in our hearts when we give, God has also weaved in our social and cultural fabrics to reciprocate generosity. When we are generous to other people, they tend to be generous to us. We can also see that being selfish leads to unhappiness because when our goal is to gather more, it will never be enough.
Let’s think about ways to be generous to others. Besides giving material blessings to others, we can share spiritual blessing with others. We, who have received the eternal life, can share our spiritual blessing of salvation with people who have not trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. It is true what our Lord Jesus Himself stated: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
- Ariel Knafo (2014), Are People Inclined to Act Cooperatively or Selfishly? Is Such Behavior Genetic? SA Mind, doi:10.1038/scientificamericanmind0914-78a
- Summer Allen, Ph.D. (2018). The Science of Generosity. White paper on Generosity by Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, 3. https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/GGSC-JTF_White_Paper-Generosity-FINAL.pdf