cover image The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose

The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose

Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson. Oxford Univ., $29.95 (280p) ISBN 978-0-19-939490-6

Only 2.7% of Americans tithe a 10th or more of their income to charity, say sociologists Davidson (Lost in Transition) and Smith (Soul Searching). Moreover, most donate very little—“at least 86.2 percent give away less than 2 percent of their income”—and nearly half give nothing at all. The misfortune here is twofold, according to the authors of this compelling and well-researched study. It’s not just that our collective stinginess deprives charities and the needy of funds, but that it also diminishes our own well-being, connectedness, and sense of purpose. By measure after measure (chapter one alone has 27 bar graphs), the book argues that the regular practice of being generous with our money, time, and relationships enhances happiness. Despite having similar life challenges as ungenerous people (“Generosity is not the result of people living charmed lives”), generous people are mentally healthier and more resilient. The authors come to the hopeful conclusion that “Americans have not ‘topped out’ their capacity to live in the kind of generous ways that we expect could increase their happiness.” (Sept.)