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Living This Life Fully

generosity II

Because generosity is a big part of my daily experience, I’ve decided to keep writing about it. A week ago, I read the results of an experiment at an amusement park that make sense to me. Researchers at UC Berkeley’s Hass School of Business and at UC San Diego sold photos taken of passengers on a roller coaster after they completed their exciting ride. When given the choice that half of whatever they decided to pay would go to a particular charity, the passengers who chose that option generated the most profit for the photo company and the charity. My guess is that people paid more rather than less because they knew the money would be given to a worthy cause, not just fill the company’s coffers—and that felt good.

I think most people want to give. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to know that being generous leaves us with positive feelings, but another experiment confirms it. Social psychologist Liz Dunn found that when she gave people ten dollars and said they could keep it all for themselves or give it away, the more money people gave away, the happier they felt. Conversely, the more money people kept for themselves, the more shame they felt, which translated into higher cortisol levels. That’s a negative health indicator because cortisol has a wear-and-tear effect on the body. Isn’t instinct at play here?

I don’t think most people are aware of this link between generosity and health unless they pay close attention to how they feel and notice a cause-and-effect relationship. Sensing how wonderful I feel on both the giving and receiving ends prompts me to give whenever the opportunity arises. I like knowing that what I do, what I give, makes a difference in someone’s life.

The generosity I’m experiencing since Living This Life Fully: Stories and Teachings of Munindra was published last month shows up in various ways. Someone writes a 5-star review on Amazon.com or in a magazine. Another person sends off emails to friends to let them know about the book. A dharma group invites me to give a talk. A dharma teacher sends an announcement to a large community and distributes postcards of the book. A reader sends me words of praise and gratitude and decides to buy several copies as gifts. A webmaster adds information to a website. And so on. At the end of each day, I marvel at all this munificence.

It makes absolutely no difference to me whether people extend their generous support because they want to give to Munindra posthumously or to me now. I believe the acts of generosity are spontaneous. But since I read about the experiment at the amusement park, I wonder whether, in some instances, the generosity is even greater when they know the proceeds of the book will be donated to establish a scholarship fund at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in memory of Munindra.

Six years ago, when Robert Pryor and I first discussed collaborating on a book about Munindra, we both agreed to donate our services and honor him by making it possible for others to begin or further their practice of mindfulness meditation. Now, the outpouring of generosity from so many is working toward fulfilling our original vision.
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