C. Smith, H. Davidson (2014). The paradox of generosity: Giving we receive, grasping we lose. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 261 pp., US$ 29.95 (hardcover).
Smith and Davidson carefully walk the reader through empirical research which confirms that lives of well-being cause the practice of generosity and that generous practices cause an improved quality of life in those who consistently give of themselves. Despite the causal loop between one’s quality of life and the generous acts they perform, the authors find that most Americans choose not to consistently practice generosity, opting for the supposed comfort of cultural individualism. Indeed, most Americans do not routinely give money, volunteer for causes of which they are passionate about, or regularly practice acts of neighborly generosity.
To investigate this trend, the authors move from impressive survey data into detailed qualitative interviews of ungenerous individuals. Far from uncompassionate, ungenerous Americans, across economic backgrounds, displayed lives of existential anxiety and clung to notions of self-preservation in the face of the unexpected. Coupled with the pressures of individualism, ungenerous Americans routinely understood practices of generosity as a low priority. Alternatively, Smith and Davidson found that generous individuals experience less existential anxiety and preoccupation with self-preservation because they tend to view their lives as full of abundance without an overriding need to seek more from the world.
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