Watching Motives

I consider myself to be a nice person (my filter). I like to help other people and will bend over backwards to be agreeable and giving wherever I can. My husband would say that I give “too much”! So, what’s the problem? Isn’t it good to be giving and gracious wherever possible? The problem is that when we give out of a feeling of guilt or responsibility, and not from the heart, we can end up feeling resentful.

I found this happening this week. I have a friend who is in need, and I like to try and help whenever possible. In some cases I have compromised myself in order to do so. This week, I found out that this person has taken advantage of me in a hurtful way. Rather than being angry at the person, or resentful about my “gifts,” I have used it as an opportunity to question my own motives about when and why I try and help others.

I feel that I have been very blessed in life. I’m certainly not rich, and not “well off,” but I am able to work hard doing something that I love and to make a good living doing it. I might work more than some people would feel comfortable doing, but I feel fortunate that I am healthy enough to do so! I am blessed with healthy kids, parents who are healthy in their older ages, and a wide group of wonderful clients and friends. Every day I count my blessings about what I have and offer gratitude to God for the gifts.

But not everyone is as blessed. Some people struggle emotionally, or physically. Some people try very hard but nothing ever seems to go their way. One of my friends says if she didn’t have “bad luck” she’d have no luck at all – and seeing what happens in her life, that’s sometimes the truth! Now, we can argue that we get what we give and that sometimes our experiences are a state of mind, but there are children without food and shelter and animals being abandoned every day and those groups have no ability to help themselves, for sure.

When we give out of love and out of gratitude, we can’t possibly feel resentful. We feel joyful and filled with the satisfaction of giving. But when we give because we feel we have things that we shouldn’t, or that we are responsible for another person’s unhappy state, it can turn sour at any point and we feel resentful that the person is taking advantage of our generous nature.

In fairness, just like what happened this week, it isn’t the other person who really has done anything wrong. If we open our arms to give, we have to release whatever we are giving freely and without strings attached. If we give with conditions, or with consequences, it isn’t truly giving from the heart. Rather than becoming angry at the other person, we need to look inside ourselves and question the motives that created the situation.

The holiday season represents a time of giving. The not-for-profits that I volunteer with depend on the generosity of others, especially at this time of the year. I fully enjoy shopping for disadvantaged children, and sending gifts to those in need. When I release those funds, I feel a sense of joy. But I realized this week that when I give too much to someone who probably doesn’t appreciate it, or could turn on me instead, my motives aren’t pure and aren’t responsible. I commit to start questioning why I give what I do, and to whom. Can you examine your giving approach this holiday season? Can you give mostly out of love and not out of guilt? How do you decide where that line might be? It’s worth thinking about it as you go through your holidays. See if you, like I did, can learn something important about what motivates you.