Determining why, when, and to whom people feel compelled to be generous affords invaluable insight into positive and problematic ways of life. Organ donation, volunteering, and the funding of charities can all be illuminated by sociological and psychological perspectives on how American adults conceive of and demonstrate generosity. Focusing not only on financial giving but on the many diverse forms generosity can take, Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson show the deep impact-usually good, sometimes destructive-that giving has on individuals.
The Paradox of Generosity is the first study to make use of the cutting-edge empirical data collected in Smith's groundbreaking, multidisciplinary, five-year Science of Generosity Initiative. It draws on an extensive survey of 2,000 Americans, more than sixty in-depth interviews with individuals across twelve states, and analysis of over 1,000 photographs and other visual materials. This wealth of evidence reveals a consistent link between demonstrating generosity and leading a better life: more generous people are happier, suffer fewer illnesses and injuries, live with a greater sense of purpose, and experience less depression. Smith and Davidson also show, however, that to achieve a better life a person must practice generosity regularly-random acts of kindness are not enough.
Offering a wide range of vividly illustrative case studies, this volume will be a crucial resource for anyone seeking to understand the true impact and meaning of generosity.
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."