To say that “giving and expecting nothing in return” is a lofty life principle is probably stating the obvious. Pretty much every spiritual tradition, however, emphasizes such kind of altruistic and selfless giving. We can even find salutary effects of altruistic giving in psychological literature.1
In my own culture, we have a saying: “Neki kar darya mein daal!” (Perform an act of giving and then throw it in the river). Obviously, it is an exhortation to perform good deeds without expecting any returns. I believe it is the “expectation” part of it that causes us the most trouble in life. If we help someone or are kind or generous to them, then we expect a certain degree of reciprocity, some gratitude, or some acknowledgement. But, if we think a little about it, is giving with an expectation of return really giving? Isn’t’ it more of a contract?
I have often heard people say things such as “I did so much for them but got nothing in return!” Now, it is that “expectation” of return that comes to haunt us, for we see an act of giving as a cause and hope the effect to come back to us and when that does not happen, we feel disappointed and even angry.
What if we could train ourselves to give without expecting anything in return? I know we are all human and maybe it is a bit too much to ask of ourselves. But I believe with practice and reflection we can reach this state of detached giving, where we are focused only on the act of giving and not too much on the returns. When we do not expect anything in return for our giving, it enables us to really feel good about ourself, for altruistic acts do really impact our psyche. But, more importantly, when we develop the habit of giving without expecting anything in return, then we do not have to deal with the negative feelings that come with unfulfilled expectations.
Now, I am not advocating for purely passive behavior, for sometimes we do have to remind people about their reciprocal obligations. But I am focusing primarily on our general behaviors towards others and the limitations of always expecting something in return for our generosity or care. In my own life, when I reached this stage of expecting nothing in return, I found myself becoming more forgiving and less judgmental and I was also able to see the actions of others within the context of their limitations instead of seeing them within the realm of my own expectations. (I do have a course that covers giving:))
So, overall I would like to suggest that giving and expecting nothing in return could be a good start towards a healthier and happier life! I would love to read your views about it, so please use the comment section below to share your thoughts.
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