When we give, we count more than the sum of its parts
It was one and a half month before the end of our rental contract of our largest warehouse in Myanmar when the warehouse owner told us that he had changed his mind. Contrary to what he had verbally agreed to earlier, he wasn’t going to extend the lease on our warehouse. At that moment, we had around fifty thousand 50 kg bags of organic fertilizer in storage there, together with an extensive packaging line, machines, and other equipment. I was shocked. We tried to reason with him, but he was legally allowed to terminate our contract. Which he did. At this time, before the military coup of February 1, 2021, business was booming in Myanmar, and it had taken us enormous effort to secure this warehouse. How would we be able to find another place in 6 weeks?! Weeks went by, and clouds grew darker. We couldn’t find a suitable place. There was barely anything available, or only at exorbitantly high cost. At some point, I literally had my colleagues drive around the industrial zones surrounding Yangon looking around and asking for available warehouse space to rent. To no avail. The owner had made clear that we’d have to be out of his warehouse latest at the final date of our contract term, and there was no space for any flexibility. I grew more anxious and worried about this situation and the possible cost and operational implications for our business. I talked about this with one of my business partners, and he gave me some interesting advice that has helped me deal with challenging situations ever since.
Namely, he suggested me to first relax and then do whatever I could to alleviate the situation instead of worry about it. That’s easier said than done. However, he offered a trick for shifting my focus. What he recommended me to do before getting back to work on solving the issue at hand made all the difference. He recommended me to treat myself and others well. As he suggested; ‘do five things which are good for you and/or other people, and before you’ll be at number five, your mind will have shifted’. For example, pay someone a compliment. Send a thank you note. Make your favorite cup of tea and lean back and enjoy some good music for a moment. Offer help to a stranger, acknowledge someone, be kind. Basically, he suggested me to give. Both to myself, and others.
Giving shifts our mind
When we are giving, instead of worrying, something shifts inside of us. We move from anxious to grateful. When we give to others, in whatever form, their gratitude, happiness, and humility radiates back to us. Giving helps us to give our ego’s a day off. Sincere giving puts the other person at the center, instead of ourselves. It was because of my ego that I became so anxious for not being able to solve that situation with the warehouse. When I focused on doing good, without needing anything in return for it, both towards myself and others, my ego dissolved a bit, and my tensions subsided. ‘Doing something for others gives us a sense of purpose and wellbeing. Being generous, everything from giving someone directions to helping a friend move house, activates the part of the brain that makes you feel pleasure. Plus, it releases a hormone called oxytocin that helps mediate social interactions and emotion – the higher your oxytocin levels, the more you’re likely to give’ (Stokes, 2022). We could all do with some more oxytocin.
Giving and happiness
As mentioned above, when we give, we shift our focus away from ourselves, and onto others. By definition, when we’re sincerely generous, we’re not trying to get benefit out of being generous. However, it does affect our happiness and wellbeing positively. A 2017 study provided participants with a monthly money allowance, where one group was asked to use this money for the benefit of others, while the control group could spend the money on themselves. It was found that the group of people spending money on other people experienced greater happiness that the control group (Park, Et. Al., 2017). Giving to others makes us happier. Research by the New Economics Foundation has shown that committing an act of kindness once a week for over a six-week period results in increased wellbeing. ‘[T]he greatest happiness you find in life is always from what you give not what you get. [M]any of us long for connection to something larger than ourselves. Giving connects us to something larger’ (Izzo, 2008). For his book ‘The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die’, John Izzo interviewed over 200 people of over 60 years of age who were identified by friends and acquaintances as “the one person they knew who had found happiness and meaning”. As John stated, ‘The happiest people I interviewed knew their life had mattered, that they had been of service. The most miserable people had focused on themselves and finding happiness, getting love, accumulating things, status and fame’ (Izzo, 2008). Wim de Bundel, whom I interviewed to learn more about giving, had similar findings during the research for his book ‘Geven is Leven’, which in English translates to Giving is Living.
Giving gives more
During our talk, Wim shared a great story which a friend of him had shared inspired by reading ‘Geven is Leven’. It’s a vivid example of what happens when we reframe our mind and focus on giving first. This friend’s father had a piano at home whom he didn’t use. His wife, who passed away used to play, but now he was considering selling the piano. Then, inspired by the book, his son suggested to give the piano away, instead of selling it. After giving this some thought, ultimately, he gave his piano to his neighbors who always had been helpful towards him. They made a small deal. They got the piano, and once a month he could come and visit them to listen to them play while sharing a glass of wine and conversation. Even though the piano was given away for free, the value gained for both sides was way more than the money he would have gotten from selling the piano. When we give, the net benefit for all those involved will always be higher than when we focus only on ourselves. Shared joy equals more joy.
Give and take
Giving doesn’t imply that you have to give all you have. It comes after dealing with your own priorities. However, after having dealt with your own priorities, there is a second life which is about giving to others (De Bundel, 2022). When we interact with other people, we’re always choosing what sort of person we will be in that interaction according to Adam Grant in his book ‘Give and Take’. We can choose to either be a “taker”, looking out for ourselves and letting others stand up (or not) for themselves, or a “giver”, doing what’s best for others, or we can be a “matcher”, shifting according to the situation, and treating others as they treat us (Grant, 2014). According to Grant, the givers are the likeliest to end up last on the success ladder. Surprisingly however, it’s also the givers who occupy the highest ranks on this same ladder. The middle ground is full of takers and matchers. ‘By shifting ever so slightly in the giver direction, we might find our waking hours marked by greater success, richer meaning and more lasting impact’ (Grant, 2014). Without spreading oneself too thin, we’d do good to be a giver without letting takers take advantage of us. We want to focus on others, but not to our own impairment. Successful givers act out of concern for others while balancing this with meeting their own interests and protecting their own priorities. ‘If you don’t watch your own priorities and are only giving, you’ll lose. Give in addition to making sure you’re meeting your own needs’ (De Bundel, 2022).
Setbacks awaken our generosity
When we stumble upon hardship and setbacks in life, it makes us all the more aware of how fragile things actually are, and how all the good can be taken at any moment, and all the cards can be shuffled. When things are going well, and we’re only focused on our work and goals, it’s easy to get caught up in our ego and just push forward. After having been down and out, we become more aware of what we have and how blessed we actually are. It makes us humbler, and also more generous and empathetic towards other people. This has also been the case for Wim. After having been faced with his wife being diagnosed with cancer, things shifted (De Bundel, 2022). Luckily things turned out well, and she recovered fully. However, this newfound awareness of the value of life added a new layer to living, through giving. Having gone through those experiences made it the more meaningful to share and help others. When grieving a loss, or facing a difficulty, from then on, Wim asked the very important question; ‘[c]an you put something next to it? Something meaningful?’
Giving is not limited to money
Giving is not only about money. It is also about giving our attention, our knowledge, expertise, and experience. Sometimes acknowledging someone is really what makes the difference for that person. No matter our income, health, or place in the world. We all share the same human needs. We all want to be seen, heard, loved, and give love. We’re not so different. Helping other people meet these universal needs through giving someone our undivided attention for a brief moment and acknowledging their existence we can do at no cost. Giving our attention, interest, and respect is free, but it can mean a lot for the person on the receiving end. Who have you made feeling special today?
Giving and the context of business
When reflecting back on 12 years as a Director of Sales and Marketing, Wim noticed, that in both cases of good or bad performance, there was always a relationship to giving. In cases of good performance, there is a positive correlation between giving and ultimate achievement of success and achieving performance. In case of poor results, there was an inverse relation between business performance and the willingness to give within members of the team. Thus, with success in business, Wim identified a clear relation to giving, but also when experiencing tough times, he noticed that giving could lead him back to happiness (De Bundel, 2022).
In the context of business, Wim shared how they started to include giving to charity as part of their company policy. To do more than merely the services provided. Ultimately, this inspired their customers to become more conscious, and start giving too. This is a positive upward spiral, where one good deed inspires the next. I also really liked an example shared by Wim for mixing giving with good business practice. In this case, they hosted a conference at a new and different location instead of a standard conference center. The conference center would have costed around 10,000 euros. Instead of spending this, they donated this amount to a sporting facility for people with disabilities, and in exchange hosted their conference there. I think this is a great idea, which connects people and environments together which otherwise perhaps wouldn’t have met. No change of budget is required for the business, yet the net value from something like this benefits many more people. As Wim mentioned, ‘[i]n times, only companies will survive who think about more than their own services’ (De Bundel, 2022).
Create the giving habit
At age thirty-five, author Cami Walker of the book ’29 Gifts’ found herself diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic neurological disease, one month after her wedding. Feeling debilitated and depressed, she received an uncommon "prescription" from South African healer Mbali Creazzo: Give away 29 gifts in 29 days. Hereby shifting her focus on others, instead of herself. The gifts could be anything; a compliment, a physical present, or a favor such as for instance a car ride somewhere. Whatever it was, it had to be given with intention, focused on the act of giving (Walker, 2010). This prescription changed her life. At first, feeling beaten down by her diagnosis, without even having the energy to get out of bed, Cami felt as though she had nothing to contribute to the world anymore. When she ultimately committed to her 29 days of giving, things turned around 180 degrees. On her first day, she called a friend who had been dealing with multiple sclerosis herself for years too, giving her time and attention. For the next month, she helped a stranger in need of some money, let her husband choose a movie at night, and offered free consulting services, and so on. This focus on giving made her more attune to the abundance already in her life. It shifted her focus from feeling like a victim who is reacting to what happens to her, to someone who is proactive and positive. ‘Giving of any kind is taking a positive action that begins the process of change’ (Walker, 2010). At the end of the 29 days, Walker had witnessed so many improvements in different areas of her life and physical wellbeing, that she decided to start the cycle of giving all over. We too can build this habit of giving. It will surely benefit us, and those around us. After all, at the end of our lives, we should be looking back asking ourselves; ‘[h]ave we given more than we’ve taken?’ (De Bundel, 2022).
As I learnt that time in Myanmar when I was anxiously trying to find a new warehouse, shifting my focus away from myself and the anxiety towards the good I could do for others changed everything. Yes, we found a new and even more fitting warehouse. But also in this time, I made an effort to connect better with my friends, colleagues, and other people around me. It improved my relationships with those around me, and through that, the relationship with myself. After all, we are but very social beings. We should therefore behave as such, as much as we can. Even since that experience, I’ve been aiming to be more conscious of those around me. I know, it’s easy to get caught up in my own ego. But now when I’m experiencing frustration, anxiety, or even anger, I take those feelings as a signal to switch away from focusing on myself, and instead, to focus on others.
Image: reproduced from Islaam.net.
To learn more about giving, and why this is important, and perhaps even central to a happy live, I have talked to Wim de Bundel. Wim is the author of the book ‘Geven is Leven’, which translates in English to ‘Giving is Living’; a book in which he has put together inspiring stories about giving, sports, life, hope, and optimism.
Wim is also the founder of the website with the same name, www.gevenisleven.nl, inspiring and helping people to give more. The website is full of stories and tools which help you be more generous and giving. It is full of initiatives and useful links stimulating people to share their fortune with others.
The talk with Wim was inspiring and provided me with new perspectives and opportunities to give. I know from personal experience that when I focus on others instead of on myself, I am a happier person. I’m sure this is true for you too. Please enjoy the interview, and I hope you get inspired to give and share more!
Personal website of Wim de Bundel (in Dutch): https://wimdebundel.nl
The ‘Geven is Leven’ platform (in Dutch): https://gevenisleven.nl
Bundel, de, Wim, 2021, Geven is Leven. https://www.bol.com/nl/nl/p/geven-is-leven/9300000019800783/
Grant, Adam, 2014, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. https://amzn.to/3r4FmSX
Izzo, John, 2008, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. https://amzn.to/35h2QfI
New Economics Foundation, 2011, Five Ways to Wellbeing: New Applications, New Ways of Thinking. https://neweconomics.org/2011/07/five-ways-well-new-applications-new-ways-thinking, accessed 30 March 2022.
Park, Soyoung Q. Et. Al., 2017, A Neural Link Between Generosity and Happiness. Nature Communications, 8:15964, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15964 https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms15964.pdf
Stokes, Patrick, 2022, The Power of Generosity: Why Giving Is Good For You. Deaking University. https://this.deakin.edu.au/self-improvement/the-power-of-generosity-why-giving-is-good-for-you, accessed 30 March 2022.
Walker, Cami, 2010, 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life. https://amzn.to/3tSWKMc