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Lenten Meditation: Be a Joyful Gift to Others

I think that almost all of us are surprised how our joy is enhanced when we make someone else happy. You know, you go to town, you’ve gone to do some shopping, and when you get back home you have a bunch of flowers for Rachel. She wasn’t expecting them, and glow on her face and the joy that comes from making another person joyful is something that you can’t actually compute.

            “So,” the Archbishop said with a laugh, “book says that it is in giving that we receive. So, I would hope that people would recognize in themselves that it is when we are closed in on ourselves that we tend to be miserable. It is when we grow in a self-forgetfulness—in a remarkable way I mean we discover that we are filled with joy.

            “I’ve sometimes joked and said God doesn’t know very much math, because when you give to others, it should be that you are subtracting from yourself. But in this incredible kind of way—I’ve certainly found that to be the case so many times—you gave and it then seems like in fact you are making space for more to be given to you.

            “And there is a very physical example. The Dead Sea in the Middle East receives fresh water, but it has no outlet, so it doesn’t pass the water out. It receives beautiful water from the rivers, and the water goes dank. I mean, it just goes bad. And that’s why it is the Dead Sea. It receives and does not give. And we are made much that way, too. I mean, we receive and we must give. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming more, more, and more joyful.”

            Generosity is often a natural outgrowth of compassion, though the line between the two can be hard to distinguish. As Jinpas pointed out, we don’t need to wait until the feeling of compassion arises before we choose to be generous. Generosity is often something that we learn to enjoy by doing. It is probably for this reason that charity is prescribed by almost every religious tradition. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, called zakat. In Judaism, it is called tzedakah, which literally means “justice.” In Hinduism and Buddhism, it is called dana. And in Christianity, it is charity.

            Generosity so important in all of the world’s religions because it no doubt expresses a fundamental aspect of our interdependence and our need for one another. Generosity was so important for our survival that the reward centers of our brain light up as strongly when we give as when we receive, sometimes even more so. 


~from “The Book of Joy” by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu


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