emotional generosity deficit

Are We Suffering From Generosity Deficit?

Have you ever made something creative, something you put your soul into, only to get cold indifference from your friends? Have you ever shared something very personal and significant, only to receive deafening silence? Have you ever ventured into something new, maybe recklessly, but courageously, only to receive trivial advice, instead of the much needed emotional support and understanding?

Then you’ll know what I mean, when I say that we all suffer from generosity deficit.

Emotional generosity is very simple to exercise – it’s simply about sharing a couple of sincere, warm words, or gestures with a person that might be in need of validation and encouragement. So why is it that so often we withhold this essential human gift?


We often get so caught up in the daily business of our lives, that we miss when people around us are in need of our attention. We are so involved in our little problems and worries, that it seems that we don’t have any time or energy left to notice anyone’s troubles. But raising the head from time to time, and checking out on the people in our lives really isn’t that hard – all it takes is the realization that we all have a role to play in someone’s life. Role, that goes far beyond social gatherings and gossip chatter. Once we realize that our role must go beyond being a bored spectator in the theater of people’s lives, generosity should come naturally.


When my friend got his first girlfriend, I found it very difficult to be genuinely happy for him – I was too busy feeling inadequate about my own personal life. Often, people’s ventures and achievements shine a light on our own insecurities  – we compare our own ambition and achievements to theirs, and we don’t like the result. But realizing that our inability to be generous is a result of our own dissatisfaction with our place in life, can help us overcome this immaturity, and as a result, rise in our own eyes.


The most generous people I met were always those that have been through much. Those, whose lives have put them though trying circumstances, who experienced firsthand the value of good word, supporting gesture, a sincere smile and a hug. If you have ever started a company, then you know how hard it can be to start any significant project, when you are on you own, with no confidence that anyone really needs what you do.

Next time we receive an email, see a Facebook post, or talk with a person, why don’t we check with ourselves – could this person benefit from our genuine generosity? And if he could, then let’s offer it. Without reservation, without doubting ourselves. Hell, we may even enjoy it.

14 Replies

  • That’s so true, Mike! We either aren’t enough happy or satisfied ourselves to be generous with others or just don’t realize how simple words like ‘I’m happy for you.. or i know what u’re going though’ make such a big difference. And sometimes it’s just surpisingly not common among some groups of people. so it’s also a matter of culture which fortunately can change with time.   

  • there’s a view that women are more empathic than men, because we are used to support each other when we go through troubles in our lives especially in relationships. we talk it through. men in the same circumstances usually feel that they should withdraw to themselves, don’t they?
    i am very grateful to my precious friends for support that they’ve offered me during last months. without it i don’t think i would survive. thank you oxanna, i know that i can always lean on you.

    • Radjana,
      Thank you for your comment 🙂

      Women are certainly more emphatic than men, but I would argue that that doesn’t translate automatically to generosity. Because empathy is about feeling the pain of the other, when the other is particularly vulnerable and hurt. But what if the other person feels instead an excitement over significant achievement, or uncertainty about a project whose succesfull completion will make him more successful then you? Would empathy be even ‘triggered’ in such situations? I am not sure. I think this is where generosity kicks in. And I am not sure that women are more generous then men. But then again, maybe they are, possibly because often they are less competitive.

      Anyway, I’m glad that you have people in your life, whose generosity and support is unconditional. You are lucky, but you probably deserve it.

      • In the misfortunes of our best friends we always find something not altogether displeasing to us.

        Francois de La Rochefoucauld

        what do you think of that?)) it’s in other words your thought… if it’s sometimes difficult to be sincerely happy for another person than the old cynisist must be right!)

      • The old cynisist knows something about our darker corners. But then again, this content with friends’ misfortunes is always uneasy, accompanied with guilt. So after all, we aren’t corrupt, just insecure. And that can dealt with 🙂

    • Radjana, you’re not a friend but a family! surely we can always lean on each other. And by the way i think true women’s friendship is greater than a men’s friendship :))) hugs

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  • Relating to the economic meaning of “deficit”, I would say that emotional generosity does not obey economic rules: True emotional generosity creates “something from nothing”, leaving the receiver and the giver both better off.
    Moreover, one with emotional generosity towards oneself can generate emotional generosity towards others with no cost – “something from nothing” again 🙂

    So without going too deep, I would say this means we can create a positive “bubble” (in the economic sense) of emotional generosity 🙂 A group of people who have learned to be emotionally generous towards themselves, can spread this like a virus… beware, this will happen sometime 😉

    • I am eagerly waiting for this time, my friend 🙂

      Generosity indeed has some interesting properties – it’s free (doesn’t cost us time/money), it’s reciprocal and its memorable. Of course it must be authentic, in order to be counted as generosity (and not flattery). So I wonder, why we still haven’t truly discovered it 🙂

      BTW, it’s not a bubble, since it’s value will never diminish 🙂 (well at least as long as human beings will endure uncertainty and hardships)

  • I had grown up with a lot of cold indifference, and sometimes physical abuse and a lot of shame.  It fortunately hadn’t killed me (though it almost did).  I almost took my life when I was 18, but had an epiphany while holding a package of sleeping pills and contemplating suicide after I ran away from home.

    I had the epiphany that I desperately wanted to see how the rest of my life would go if I didn’t end it that night…if I could find a way to keep going on.

    Self-preservation kicked in.  I had a renewed sense of life (even if I wasn’t sure what to do with it).  I walked a long ways that night, trying to figure out what I’d do because I couldn’t go home.  I looked up an old boyfriend and though he wasn’t home, his parents took one look at me and took me in and let me talk and stay the night.  In the morning, I was able to face going home. 

    There were a few other times when I needed a place to stay when the abuse at home was bad.  I was taken in again, for a few months at a time, by other friends’ parents.

    Not having any ability at the time to pay it back, I have made it a point to pay the generosity forward to others, in different ways.  Sometimes by befriending misunderstood people (you know, the kind that everyone in the office or at school seems to shun for being/looking ‘different’).  Sometimes by giving little care packages to depressed or sick friends.  Sometimes by offering assistance to people in trouble (a professor got beat up once, I was the only one to actually tend to him, while other people were immobilized in fear).  Most recently by offering my home as a refuge for a friend for a little while who needed a place to stay while sorting some things out.

    I grew up to have a very full life.  A good husband, three wonderful
    daughters, a meaningful career (for a time anyway), some good friends and a lot of meaningful experiences.

    I try to volunteer for things with children, because they seem to appreciate my efforts in very gratifying ways and often more so obviously than adults, because they haven’t learned to be jaded or phony.  They genuinely love being taken seriously by adults.

    By the way, I appreciate your thought-provoking posts (and some of the wonderful little images that accompany them).  Thanks for the opportunity to revisit my past a little and the good I’ve done for others.  I’m very glad I had found a reason to stick around back then. 

  • Casey,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’ve reread it multiple times, and it stayed with me for several days now.

    I am so glad that you persevered the hard times that you had at home, and were able to transform these difficult experiences into a life-shaping meaning. Giving our generosity and care to others can have a profound effect both on us, and on the people that receive it. Just as you were deeply touched by the generosity of people that helped you in your difficult moments, the people and children you tend to will be transformed. The ripple effect that we create by our generosity is often hidden from our eyes, but it’s deep effect is hard to overstate.

    My favorite quote:
    “Not having any ability at the time to pay it back, I have made it a
    point to pay the generosity forward to others, in different ways”.

    I volunteer in a psychological crisis line, and often speak with people that have suicidal thoughts. With your permission, I would like to share your story with them.

  • Mike –

    Please do share my story.  I’m touched that my story has impacted you and that maybe it might be used to help others. 

    “The ripple effect that we create by our generosity is often hidden from our eyes, but it’s deep effect is hard to overstate.”

    I totally agree. 

    And, by the way, a lot of what you say stays with me for a while.  🙂 

    Keep up the great work you are doing here!

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