Giving: As good as it gets

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill


The other day, as I drove my daughter to Kindergym, I had the fortune to catch Margaret Throsby interviewing Sylvie Guillem on Radio National.

It is a true pleasure to listen to Sylvie speak. She is so intelligent and has the kind of mellifluous voice which I imagine only a French ballerina could possess. She spoke on all manner of things to do with dancing and performance, but one particular thing she mentioned in passing really struck me.

Sylvie talked about “giving”.

When describing her experience of performance, she said,

“I give to an audience… the audience comes to receive and I am here to give”

This simple idea, the desire to give pleasure to her audience, is what enables her to push her body and mind to the absolute limit and deliver those incredible performances she is so famous for. (Just check out that “6 o’clock” move she’s pulling off in that photo!)

It was one of those things that makes you sit up a bit straighter and pay attention. For just a moment, I saw the concept of “work” quite differently.

I am ashamed to admit that, perhaps like some of you, I tend to look at most kinds of work as something foisted upon me – an utter inconvenience and drain on my time and energy. As a Mum I catch myself too often thinking “I would rather stick a fork in my eye than build one more thing out of play dough”…

I don’t think I am alone. Way too often, we front up to our “work” (whether this be at an office or within the home) not with a sense of giving, but with a sense of entitlement. “Show me the money!” we cry, often expecting a reward just for showing up, let alone giving a great performance.

What would happen if we just plain forgot about the endgame (money, recognition etc) and just delivered that A-grade performance for the art of it; for the delicious satisfaction of a job well done?

We have all heard the old adages “it is more blessed to give than to receive” and “money cannot buy you happiness”. These concepts collide in social psychologist Elizabeth Dunn’s recent study.

The two things in her presentation that really stuck out for me were

a)      once you earn around $75,000 per annum, money stops having a significant effect on your happiness – this falls way short of the millions most of us think will have us spinning on an Austrian mountain side singing “The hills are alive…” à la Maria Von Trapp.

b)      spending money on others creates a greater sense of happiness than spending on yourself.

The above study is just one amongst the many you can readily find hailing the benefits of generosity. Most seem to agree that people who give of themselves are happier, healthier and more satisfied with life in general.

This is because giving to others leads to lovely feel-good things, like a rush of Endorphins – fighting stress and boosting your immune system, a tap into a positive feedback loop (those that give feel happier, so are more likely to give) and being socially more engaged and accepted (well duh – who doesn’t like someone who is generous!?!)

So all this giving is making you happy (yay!)… BUT, the fun doesn’t stop there!

The funny thing about happiness is that it makes you more likely to DO. The one thing you can probably observe fairly easily about really interesting and successful types is that they often

a)      are very happy

b)      work very hard indeed.

Not always things we put together in our modern lifestyle!

So the theory goes like this.

Instead of:


We can reinvent the wheel:


In that case, I am off to give myself fully to playing with and teaching my kids, because as a Mum that’s my “work” and today I am not just going to “get it done”, I’m going to do it superbly and with great enthusiasm. I am sure that my little audience of two will give my performance a rave review… and that just might make me happy!



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5 responses to “Giving: As good as it gets

  1. ljwpossum

    Great blog! All too often we focus on ‘what’s in it for us’ and not what we can give. This mentality is an all too common thread through so many facets of our lives – even dating. When was the last time a dating site asked ‘what makes you a good partner? or what do you plan to give to your perfect match?’ Recently I saw an interview with J K Rowling, who also spoke of ‘giving’ in the context of writing and author- reader engagement. Given that most art forms are on some level an exercise of ego it is silly to say that you write, paint, dance etc for yourself. We do things to engage with others, we are seeking meaningful discourse on that which we feel most passionate. Whether we chose to express are burning thoughts through the written word, a stand-up routine, a painting or even interpretive dance we all want the same thing – to give a piece of ourselves to our audience in the hope they will do the same in return. We might be egotistical or even narcissistic to think that people value what we have to share so highly as to consume but that’s what drives us. As an author I hope to give books, not to for fame or fortune but to give others that same joy I seek and so often find within the pages of a good tome. As someone who works in a not-for-profit, there is a certain satisfaction that comes from knowing that some part of what you do each day is helping to make a difference. For me that warm feeling when someone says ‘l loved that piece you wrote’ is far nicer and far more gratifying than any material gift. Everyday I try and quietly do something extra that invites no payment, no praise but helps someone. Sometimes that can be a simple smile, holding open the lift for someone or doing an extra little task. Whatever it is, I feel good for the rest of the day.

  2. Have you read the Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin? My book club read it and I have to admit I was very sceptical but I ended up really enjoying it. Parts of it are a little naff but much of it is really practical and easy to do yourself. Rubin makes similar arguments – giving makes you happy and when you’re happy you work harder etc. She also suggests acting the way you want to feel which sounds ridiculous but has some truth to it I think. If you’re determined to have a good day, smile through a painful event etc you often end up enjoying it more than you expected to.

    • Hi Anna!
      I have read that book and I loved a lot of the ideas – for someone like me who is a bit of a cynic at times, that is really saying something…
      I highly recommend it!

      Thanks for reading and for the comment! xx

  3. Humanitas

    I think that front and centre of giving is simply to enhance the circumstance for the recipient and perhaps also influencing their response to kindness – they may feel gratitude and so undertake to do likewise for others [pay it forward] – they may feel the connectedness and a sense of self worth – they may feel the love. People struggle with giving at times – but as the discussion points out that a positive view improves the effort. At the end of the day to reflect on “What have I done for someone today” is a good way to keep this notion front-and-centre and to often to pause and ask this question. Carrying out in actions those good deeds without hesitation and question works on your subconscious – too often people demand and expect that their needs are met and somehow lost sight of their role in the giving-receiving chain.
    On that note let me send this link to you to bask in the loveliness parenting can bring:

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