In 2015, two researchers from University of North Carolina at Charlotte examined whether there is such thing as a “generous identity” and whether such an identity could be defined and measured.
They determined the answer is yes and validated their claim saying, “Generosity is a distinct construct that involves a higher level of prosociality,” and “[W]e propose that people with generous identities have an internal drive that motivates them to be generous across different social contexts.”*
In plain terms, they mean that generosity is determined by something inside of you, not by some external, motivating factor (as other researchers have proposed), but it can be seen in many areas of a person’s life. Generosity doesn’t “stay in its own lane,” so to speak. It doesn’t stand alone as a character trait in the research, but, instead, is linked to many other positive behaviors.
According to the research, engaging in frequent, generous behaviors changes a person, forms in them a “generous identity,” making them more likely to exhibit a host of other “prosocial” (good for everyone) behaviors, like volunteerism, helping, altruism, philanthropy, trust, and even humility. It also makes them happier kinder, and healthier.
Interestingly, those who are generous are also more likely to sense a feeling of awe or wonder, making them feel small and in the presence something “vaster than the individual.” And, in the research, that sense of awe had a tendency to increase ethical decisions and altruism that led to generosity. Researchers in the awe study called what we know to be God, “stimuli that transcend current frames of reference.” (NCF’s own Bryan Feller has written an amazing piece about this connection.)
And research just published Monday by the University of Groningen in the Netherlands says transferring wealth generously to people we love actually extends our lifespan! The researchers found that the two countries with the longest lifespans (France and Japan) had the highest level of intergenerational wealth transfer, and in countries where wealth was not shared, life expectancy is shorter. And families in which the adults share with parents or children feel a sense of closeness and have a higher level of “mutual regard.”
There is no arguing (not that anyone here was) that generosity is good for us! And it’s contagious. Researchers found that one generous act by a single person could inspire a sort of ripple effect, inspiring generosity in someone three degrees removed from them! “Each person in a network can influence dozens or even hundreds of people,” the research concludes, “some of whom he or she does not know and has not met.”
Researchers found that one generous act by a single person could inspire a sort of ripple effect, inspiring generosity in someone three degrees removed from them!
You don’t have to identify yourself as a generous person to have a “generous identity.” In fact, most of our givers would likely shy away from such a distinction. Humility is one of those prosocial behaviors that often accompanies generosity.
But we have to acknowledge the transformational effects giving is having in our lives. As we begin to view generosity as a spiritual discipline, we can be intentional about listening for God’s leading in our giving. What the researchers are seeing is the light of Christ shining in our lives. And for those of you who do your giving in secret, be encouraged. Even when your gifts are given quietly, the life you are living by following the Spirit’s lead and allowing him to work in you is speaking volumes of God-glorifying good.
It’s interesting to see what research says. But it will not change what we know. Any “generous identity” in God’s people, no matter how you measure it, is a byproduct of God’s transformative work, shaping us into the image of our Savior.