Generosity Day – in graphs

It’s been more than two years since my original Generosity Experiment. The experiment was an intuitive, gut reaction to an incongruence I felt between my commitment to creating massive social change, my work with philanthropists to support this mission, and how I saw myself behave in the face of acute need right in front of me.  The “Experiment” was just that: a chance to test what it felt like to live with a totally different orientation.  It was a commitment to take a door that was too closed for my taste and open it wide.

Of course the story spread thanks to Generosity Day last year and my Generosity Experiment talk getting posted on TED, so I’m having (and witnessing) a lot more conversations about generosity and Generosity Day.

One thing I’ve observed is that the powerful original story – of giving to a homeless person when asked – is both helping and hindering my ability to explain what Generosity Day is all about.  To be clear, generosity day is not designed to be a philanthropic strategy (“say yes to everything”). Rather, the whole point is to use the day (the month) to develop a different practice of generosity in our lives – whatever that means to you.

Since I’m a visual thinker, I’ve drawn some graphs to explain what the Generosity Experiment meant in my life.  The red line represents my perceived “ideal” level of generosity (for me).  The blue line represents my perception of how generous I actually am.

In the time leading up to my original Generosity Experiment, two things were happening.  First, because I was spending so much time with philanthropists, I was gaining a deeper understanding of philanthropy and of giving, and part of my reflection was that generosity was more important than I’d understood it to be. That’s why the red line slopes upwards: what I understood to be the “ideal” in terms of generosity was going up.

Second, you’ll notice that the blue line (my perception of how generous I actually am), is sloping down.  That reflects my experience of spending all my time and energy understanding how difficult it is to create social change efforts that really make a difference.  And so, increasingly, I began to feel like more and more things didn’t hit the bar (“what’s the model for sustainability?” “show me your impact numbers!” “what’s your broader theory of change?” etc.), which, practically speaking, meant that I was saying “no” to more and more people/organizations that were asking for my support.

This is what I meant when I said that I felt like what was smart was keeping me from doing what was right.

This next graph represents what happens (could happen) when you conduct a generosity experiment. You choose to be exceptionally generous and open for a period of time.  That experience changes you.  It gives you the opportunity to reflect on old habits and consider whether they’re still serving you well.   Of course the experiment eventually ends, and you revert to “regular life,” but if the experiment changed you in some significant way, then you reset to a “new normal” of generosity (again, whatever that means to you) – in the graph, that’s why the blue line stays above the red line after the Generosity Experiment.

To you psychoanalytically-minded folks out there, a generosity experiment is a tiny undertaking in cognitive behavioral therapy.  For those on the more spiritual end of the spectrum, it is like a yoga or a meditation practice – a chance, in a controlled environment for a defined period of time to practice acting differently so that, over time, new practices pervade your life.

Of course the big question is: what happens in just one day?  Does it touch peoples’ hearts enough to create a little shift?  Are enough people touched by millions of acts of generosity that they’re changed as well?  And if we can create a shift for millions of people, will that create a massive change?  I think it will.

Outside of revealing what an incredible analytical dork I am, I hope this post can help broaden the conversation – your conversation – about generosity day.

52 thoughts on “Generosity Day – in graphs

  1. It’s pretty amazing!
    Moses Maimonedes, a 12th century Jewsih philosopher came up with the same principles, based on Aristotle!

  2. What a great concept, a gererosity day. It made me look at my own philanthropy and how I can impact others

  3. I love this idea and I believe that it does have the potential to create a massive shift in thinking and behavior.

    It’s always nice to feel excited by someone else’s big idea 🙂

    I’ll be blogging/vlogging about it for sure. Thank you for sharing this explanation <3

  4. The act of thinking about something makes us more aware and action oriented. Having said that, I was on the receiving end of amazing generosity when a person sent one of my first artworks in a series back to me, because she felt I should have the first work. Her act of generosity definitely did make me think, how could I do something similar for someone else?

  5. What if, in the worst case, after the experiment ended the reset to normal was not improved? Yet, the recipient(s) of the experiment had their life changed significantly (maybe even saved). Would it be worth it?
    Reminds me of the starfish story which I won’t bore you with again, but the punch line says, “It makes a difference to that one.”

  6. Sasha–I love this concept, except expounded eventually to everyday. It can start with one hour, one day, one week, or one month. Eventually it’s how you live your life. I, too, have practiced giving when asked. I DON’T live in New York City (important, because I’m not surrounded by quite as many homeless people), so this is actually possible every day for me. I encounter a pan handler (whether it be a true homeless person with a sign “will work for food” or a charity with a shaky change can collecting spare change) just a few times a week. I give whatever is in my wallet,k which ranges from spare change to $100 if I’ve just come from the ATM. Still I’m not broke. To the contrary I seem to have more money for whatever odd reasons. (I’m not saying this last sentence is a magical promise to others. It’s just an observation about my personal experience). I find that by giving — money, love, time, wisdom, support, an ear — my mind is much more expansive, calm, and happy.

  7. When generosity is paired with interaction, it goes so much farther. Writing a check for charity may give you a few minutes of satisfaction, and then you are on to the next thing. Pair the check with interaction in some way with the end recipient, and it goes from your brain to your heart. That makes a bigger impact that allows the seed planted to be nourished and grow. Experience the total impact and I believe the natural inclination is to want more of that feeling. Generosity day grows to generosity month and beyond. Thanks so much for this post.

  8. This is a great idea. We need this and agree that a day of focused generosity will create a greater and broader impact from that point on.

  9. Nice. Very nice concept. I was gently nudged here by S. Godin. And I’m glad I came.

    When I got to the graph that represents your ideal vs. actual generosity level I stopped and smiled big. And kept smiling. I adore that you showed us your own contraction in your own life —what a wonderful and effective way to connect to your audience. Honest, transparent and yes, generous.

    This smile is particularly relevant to what I am doing right now, so I thought you might like to know how it fits in.

    The mise en scene is this: here I sit in Barcelona, on a Sunday afternoon, hair unruly, in front of my computer putting together an upcoming workshop/talk at the university—a new free educational service for people who are setting up businesses or have a project dream. I help entrepreneurs and people with projects do strategic mapping. This particular talk I will give is on failure—the splendour and shine of failure and how those nuggets of learning help us to construct success. I will be using my own moments of failure from my own history of projects as examples.

    In Spain, people don’t talk about failure much, it will be interesting to see how people react.

    So, your graph, your actual bar of generosity vs. the ideal bar is inspiring to me today, and reconfirms my own desire to be transparent, honest and generous in front of a crowd of strangers. With the hope of helping some of those hungry project leaders shift into new ways of thinking and acting. And perhaps, getting a big wide smile as someone listens and connects.

    Thanks for that,


  10. I’ve been practicing generosity my whole life, first because it was taught to me from my faith (Christian) and then because I found I loved the feeling of seeing others happy, relieved, grateful and excited. Generosity can mean giving of the self – of your time, energy, love and support as well as resources. It’s actually MORE rewarding to share your wisdom, insights, time, love and self than it is to give a homeless person money, or a donate to a popular cause. We change ourselves when we improve the lives of others….

  11. I love this. Recently, I have been practicing the idea that if you want more of something in your life, you have to give more of that away. Whether it’s love, forgiveness, friendship or money. I started giving money to everyone who asks me for it. Even in NYC, giving a dollar to everyone who asks has led me to a posture of abundance – that is, acting from a place of believing I have more than enough to give – and then what happens is I realize I am living in abundance.

  12. Sasha,
    Just found your blog…
    I really enjoyed your post. What started you down this road? Were you always a generous person?
    My husband and I have definitely found this experiment to be true in our own lives. And it has brought wonderful opportunity and change!

    Thanks for the reminder to continue on that road 🙂

  13. Hi Sasha,
    Great post and great work. I’m excited for what you’re doing!
    Would you be willing to share a conversation about something I’ve started called The Leapyear Project. It would be great to get your feedback and see if there are ways to collaborate in the future.

    Thanks for your time!

  14. This is fantastic. Focused Generosity. We need this and I do agree that it will undoubtedly raise the bar and what it means to all of us to be generous. Thanks and keep fighting the good fight!

  15. Sasha, how very inspiring. I try to practice generosity in my every day life as well. I feel very affirmed after reading your explanation and other’s comments. Generosity is the best gift we can spread as humans. It is not always money but kindness, caring, love, sharing, availability, and so on. I never expect anything in return for my own generosity but I feel better about who I am as a person and love to be that way. Thanks again for your inspiration.

  16. Claudia, to the contrary I started all of this because I figured out that I wasn’t as generous as I would like to me. Really the inspiration of others’ whose path I’m trying to follow.

  17. Jenifer, I really appreciate this (not least of all because I lived in Spain – sadly never in Barcelona) because I agree that that people don’t talk about failure and shortcomings enough.

    I hope your workshops are a great success.

  18. I was reading one of Seth Godin’s latest posts where he mentioned Generosity Day and here I am… Reading this post and … loving it!

    Happiness is in giving & it returns to you not only in the form of financial wealth, but a deeper happiness, contentment & a feeling of having been able to contribute & make a difference.

    I loved your phrase ‘what was smart was keeping me from doing what was right’… The story of our lives.

    This is a good booster/jolt for many, I am sure.

    Keep inspiring, keep sharing.

    God bless you, always…

    Nuruddin Abjani

  19. It seems that every day we fight to hold on to the things that do not work, so why not try doing something that does like being nice to people. every day we fight so hard but for the wrong reasons.
    love the experiment.

  20. Wonderful concept and a growing one around the world. Look at Geshe Michael Roach’s Diamond Cutter book for more information on how money really circulates, its so inspiring .
    I’m launching a new luxury wellness retreat company called Soul Sanctuaries where a portion of every retreat ‘Gives a little Soul a Sanctuary’.
    Spreading the love

  21. nah you are all wrong..give a person fish and they’ll feed for a day. Teach a person to fish and they’ll sit around and drink beer in a boat for ages. What is needed is a serious intervention on peoples lives early in the piece. we have them all in every street in town.
    why ignore them….help them and show and tell them early.
    stop the rot early.

  22. Claudia, if anything it was my observation that I wasn’t being as generous as I wanted to be that started this whole thing.

  23. Sasha I love this post! I too came over from Seth’s mention and I’m really glad I did! Great work on the graphs….I also believe when we fully commit to things like a generosity experiment we are forever changed. Thanks for being such an inspiration!

  24. This is wonderful and why I am also attempting to spread the word about Generosity Day, to raise that actual even higher! And also trying out my own Generosity Experiment in the hopes that others will do the same! Thanks for inspiration 🙂

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