Do you remember your first pay check? What did you do with it?
I “had” to give mine away. It was the mid nineteen eighties, and I was in my first real full-time job, teaching at a school in Bombay (now Mumbai). Somewhere into my initial two weeks of work, someone asked me, (my mother perhaps?) what I planned to do with my brand-new pay check. It stopped me cold. Nothing else was asked or said, but just the posing of the question was enough. I spent that first pay check on gifts – small tokens, mostly acknowledgements, tiny gestures – ranging from letter paper to cash. Parents, sibling, household staff, mentors, cousins, friends….almost 50 people got a gift and a note from me, thanking everyone who had made it possible for me to have that job. I had only a few incidental expenses; I was living at home and did not have to make rent; I drove my parent’s car, and mostly ate at home. I could afford to give away my pay check in thanks and gratitude.
When I shared this with some friends recently, they expressed, wonder, surprise, and perhaps a little envy of a culture that supports and expects such “generous” behavior. But my act of giving gifts as thanks was based on a primary assumption: My ability to earn was not my own – it was made possible by many others, and I would have been remiss to not acknowledge it.
This culture of thanking has been harder to keep up in North America. I find myself often holding back, because I have been told that my gift giving is overwhelming and hard for people to reciprocate. It gets more complicated as I try to tease out why this might be so in an effort at clarity.
One thing though, is clear: generosity and gratitude (G&G) are linked. We teach our children to write thank-you cards for presents received and we strive to do the same, increasingly in electronic format, but no matter, they are our expressions of gratitude for acts of generosity.
And from Buddhism to recent studies in human behavior and happiness, generosity can make you happy. It can break down barriers between people and bring a community closer. Closer, so that the first job, the current work, the final place of employment, the time we spend in caring for one another, are not merely of our own doing, but thanks to a large system of people that hold us, honor us, push us along and give thanks when we do so.
What are you going to do with your next pay check?