To Let Go of Expectations, Change Your Definition of Giving
I often heard people say giving and helping those in need brings inner peace. But it didn’t do the same for me.
Ever since I suffered the loss of a loved one in 2008, I understood that life is much more than living for yourself and decided to spend some of my time and money on donations and volunteer activities. I often visited an orphanage near my place and not only distributed sweets, but also spent time with the kids there. I tipped waiters in restaurants. I bought biscuits and chocolates for balloon sellers’ kids on the sidewalk.
Why wasn’t I feeling the peace that people said you feel then you do all this? Sure I realized I was helping people in need, but I wasn’t feeling the satisfaction and peace people say comes with giving. Nevertheless, I continued doing what I did, and all this while I kept questioning the purpose of giving, until a few months ago when a Facebook post by one of my acquaintances opened my eyes.
We Need to Unlearn What We’ve Been Taught About Giving
The post read “How selfish are you when the only reason you help others is to open doorways to an afterlife in heaven?” This was in reference to how the lure of a glorious afterlife is often used to encourage people to give to those in need. I’ve often heard my mother say something similar. “If you give to those in need, then the Almighty will give you 10x of it back.” While culture and religion might use such sayings to impart the value of selflessness in people to encourage them to share and give more often, their meaning is lost in translation.
When we give, most of us start expecting good things to happen in our lives. I know I did. That’s how we expect to be rewarded for our good deeds. But my friend’s quote made me realize how wrong I was.
In his book Think Like a Monk, Jay Shetty explains this disappointment through the concept of debt. When most of us give or donate, we think it has created a debt in favor of us. Hence, at any point in time later, we expect this debt to be paid off. This gives rise to expectations in life which when not fulfilled leaves us disappointed.
I’ve seen so many people around me, including my own family members, question the reciprocation of their good deeds when they go through tough times. “But I donated money to charity every year,” or “How can such a bad thing happen to them? They were such helping people.” I questioned it too in a similar fashion. What I didn’t realize was, I was attaching the weight of my expectations to my givings. When we attach the weight of expectations on our givings, be it consciously or subconsciously, we burden the deed. Then, we carry this burden around with us which weighs our own selves down. We feel we should have gotten our dues in life because we helped those in need. But when life doesn’t pan out according to our expectations, we feel disappointed and start questioning our act of giving, just like I was.
If we want to reap the benefits of giving, we need to unlearn this transactional concept that we’ve been taught all along. After reflecting on my friend’s post, I changed the way I give. I started treating giving like any other mundane activity I did during my day, such as closing the tap or patting a dog. The only thing I reminded myself was to always have good feelings in my heart when I gave to someone. Also, I consciously reminded myself to not think of the times I’ve given to those in need, especially expecting reciprocation for it when going through tough times.
The №.1 Rule of Giving
Bhagavad Gita, one of the most important scriptures in the Hindu religion embodies this spirit of giving. It says,
“..giving simply because it is right to give, without thought of return, at a proper time, in proper circumstances, and to a worthy person, is sattvic giving..”
It encourages people to give because it is the right thing to do. It asks you to attach no meaning, be it right or wrong, to the act of giving. In Think Like a Monk, Jay Shetty elaborates on this idea. Every time you indulge in the act of giving, he says, think of it as “taking something that was already on earth and giving it back to earth.” This, in my opinion, is the no.1 rule of giving and should be at the forefront of your mind every time you attach expectations to your act of giving.
By thinking of giving on these lines, you neither attach the weight of debt nor expectations to it. It allows you to practice giving to anyone at any time and feel happy, irrespective of what happens in your life. That happiness is yours to feel forever and no circumstance or bad experience can take it away from you. Thus, you detach yourself from any other expectations other than good feelings. When you remove expectations from the equation, you eliminate the chance to let life disappoint you.
Abundance is Within Yourself
When you think of giving in this way, you also stop feeling you need to have something to give to someone.
Viktor Frankl, the founder of logotherapy, World War II Nazi concentration camp survivor, and the author of Man’s Search for Meaning mentions how his camp inmates shared even the meager quantities of stale bread they received with an inmate weaker than themselves. I’ve witnessed kids on the sidewalk embody the same spirit when I see them sharing what little food they have with stray dogs. The only reason even people in such extreme situations can give out whatever they have because giving is not a transaction.
It is an everyday action that rewards its recipient in terms of intangible remunerations such as peace and happiness, irrespective of their situation in life. When you give with this spirit, you free yourself of life’s expectations. You experience feelings that you know nothing can take away from you. It is this thought that brings you peace.
When you remove expectations from the equation, you eliminate the chance to let life disappoint you.
You now know life doesn’t owe you anything. Nothing you do in life guarantees what you get and so you stop expecting from life. Instead, you focus on what you can do with whatever you have to do for yourself what is in your hands: create your own happiness and peace.
How to Practice These Ideas
When you practice the act of detached giving, it helps you let go of expectations in life. Here are some ideas to keep in mind while giving to help you achieve this.
Practice proactive giving.
Do not wait for giving opportunities such as the holiday season, work charity events, or a friend or a colleague asking you to contribute. When you give in response to these prompts only, it becomes an opportunistic event. Rather, give when your heart goes out for a person or a cause, such as to the less fortunate than you or at a community event.
Practicing proactive giving in this way allows you to take control of your giving habits which empowers you to channelize the resulting happiness from within. It also helps you ingrain the act of giving in your sub-conscience, which lets you separate your selfish emotions from it and allows you to feel deeper emotions such as satisfaction and gratitude.
Cami Walker, the founder of 29gifts.org, practiced proactive giving for 29 days. At the end of it, she started walking without a cane, went back to work part-time after months, experienced deeper intimacy with her partner, and reported feeling happier, healthier, and more fulfilled with her life.
Become a balloon of vacuum when you give.
Do you feel proud of yourself when you give? Don’t. Feel happy instead.
To practice this, imagine yourself as a balloon filled with air when you give something to someone. Imagine the air to be the all-encompassing happiness and peace you feel in your heart you give. It means you leave no space for any other selfish emotions. This practice will help you channelize the inner happiness you experience while giving, even though you may have never experienced it before. When you remove the unnecessary emotions, you allow the ones you naturally feel to float to the surface and let them fill you.
When you practice this regularly, you will also learn to free yourself like a balloon and not keep a note of when you gave, how much, and to whom. Keeping a tab on your givings (unless when you need to refer it such as for tax reasons) be it consciously or subconsciously attaches a transactional value to it which negates the selfless act of giving you’re trying to practice.
Hold your tongue when you speak of your givings.
Earlier, when the act of giving itself wouldn’t help me feel the deeper emotions I craved, I used to speak about my generous actions to my close circle of friends and family. “I distributed sweets at the orphanage for my birthday.” or “Today, I fed a stray dog.” were normal conversations I had with my friend in the hopes that talking about the good deed would usher the emotions they should in me.
It never worked.
But when I started practicing mindful giving, the emotions I was trying to channelize by talking about it to my friends blossomed automatically. Sure I still talked about giving, its importance, and spread the word among my family and friends. But I never talked about how much I gave and to whom. When I removed myself from the equation, it allowed me to shift the focus from myself to the person I was giving to. Since it wasn’t about me anymore, it left little room for selfish expectations in me.
“You don’t need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier. Just being a little more generous will suffice.” — Prof. Tobler, Department of Economics, University of Zurich
My experience combined with the accounts I’ve read in my research has reinforced my belief in the idea that practicing selfless and mindful giving pays off. When you change the way you give, you let go of the reciprocation of good deeds thereby practicing letting go of expectations one-by-one. You may not feel these changes at once. But eventually, when you learn the art of selfless giving, you also find yourself learning the art of letting go of expectations subconsciously.
If all this is too much to take in for you, start with giving and feeling nothing but happiness when you do. Keep practicing this. Like a flower that doesn’t grow by the minute but blossoms after a day, you will feel a new you with fewer expectations bloom.