When you imagine looking back on your life, what do you want to be remembered for?
While we’ve been retraining ourselves to think like budget-constrained people, which is what we’ll be when we quit our jobs next year, we’re continuing our never ending search for good advice from all corners. That’s what led us to talk last week about times when it makes more sense to think like rich people than like budget-constrained people.
One of the things that has always been appealing to us about people with excess wealth is that they have the ability to give money to whatever causes are important to them, to spend time advancing those causes and to spread the word about them. And we’ve definitely been around some who are doing it right — giving generously, but also doing the little day-to-day stuff that matters, too. Being kind to everyone, expressing appreciation for good service, tipping well. Reaching down to help someone pick up that thing they just dropped. Holding the door open for a stranger. To us, it’s those completely non-financial moments, those moments of kindness and shared humanity, that stand out most.
Unfortunately, we’ve also been around rich people who viewed generosity as merely a tax write-off, not as something ingrained in their souls. Or who think that doing one good thing (maybe writing a big check to charity) means they’ve done their part and they can be jerks to everyone now. Who let their bank balance or their house size convince them that they’re too important or too good to see themselves as equals with all the regular people around them.
Man, what a bummer of a way to live! How draining that must be to feel like other people are beneath you, that you’re surrounded by riff raff. This is when you get into that sticky, icky zone of “deserve.” Thinking you deserve more than others, you deserve better. That feels like a super crappy recipe for happiness.
Research tells us that the people who are happiest are not those who think they deserve whatever they have in life, but those who are most thankful. And that’s a mindset you can consciously choose, not one that’s predetermined for you.
But back to that question of what you want to be remembered for.
Anyone with kids probably wants to be remembered as a good parent. Those with an entrepreneurial bent likely want to be remembered for their gamechanging ideas and business savvy. But I’d be willing to wager a hefty sum that none of us want to be remembered for being misers, for being selfish or for helping others only begrudgingly. For being those unhappy “deserve” types when we could be the happier “thankful” types.
Thinking about how we want to be remembered, we always come back to this idea of leaving the world in better shape than we found it, even if it’s only in little ways. Everything in our life’s purpose is about appreciating this awesome planet of ours, and finding a way to serve the planet and its occupants. As early retirees, we’ll be in a unique position to do that, because we’ll be able to spend most of our time on causes that are important to us, that help our community, instead of focusing solely on earning a living.
That’s not just a privilege, that’s great power, and as the uncle of our friend Spidey would say (or maybe it was Voltaire):
With great power comes great responsibility.
— Ben Parker, or Voltaire
We take that responsibility seriously. And that’s why we think everyone’s plan — whether it be for financial independence or early retirement, or for any other audacious goal — should have generosity built in. And not just plain old generosity, but joyful generosity.
What is Joyful Generosity?
Think of joyful generosity as the expression in action of gratitude. It’s what naturally happens when you allow yourself to feel thankful for everything good in your life, and to share that feeling with others. It’s the combination of that great responsibility with a deep-seated appreciation for your blessings in life, without comparing your blessings to anyone else’s. It’s generosity that comes from an open-hearted place, not a begrudging one. And — best of all — it’s generosity that not only helps others, but helps those who give it, too. Generosity with no strings attached, where any potential tax write-off is just the side effect. Generosity that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
It can look like a million different things, and it isn’t even necessarily about money. We can each decide what that joyful generosity means to us, and what we want it to look like in the world.
Generosity and FI
Reminding ourselves that generosity doesn’t have to be about money is the best way to make it jive with the principles of financial independence. Because we’re not suggesting that anyone give all their money away, or at least not while they’re living. We’re not suggesting that anyone jeopardize their financial stability by writing a bunch of checks to charity.
But we are suggesting that generosity should be fully baked into your vision for your life, especially after you reach your big financial goals. If you plan to retire early, and won’t have much money available to give, maybe you can devote significant time to volunteering, or even to starting a new effort in your community to help people or animals or your local environment or whatever else feeds your soul. Maybe it’s about choosing to spend a lot of time with extended family, and helping out those who need it in non-money ways. Maybe it’s simply about making the conscious decision to be nice to everyone, strangers included. Maybe it’s also about money.
Mapping Out Your Generous Vision
If any of this is feeling weird to you, think about the last time you smiled at someone, and they smiled back, and how good that felt. We’re just talking about taking that same idea and ramping it up. Finding more ways to spread good in the world that will also feed your own soul. That will put lots of good vibes out into the world, and leave you happier at the same time. There is pretty much zero downside to thinking this way.
To structure a vision for joyful generosity in your own life, it can be helpful to break it down into the big and small elements:
Lifetime — What do you want your legacy to be? (For example, we want to leave a big bequest to causes that are important to us.)
Years or months — How will you spend your time to help others? (We want to spend significant time volunteering with organizations undertaking projects that speak to us, as well as coaching local nonprofits to be as effective as possible.)
Day-to-day — How can you contribute positivity to the world? (We are making the conscious choice to be kind and appreciative to everyone. If we see someone who needs help with something, we do our best to help. And we make a habit of tipping well.)
There are plenty of great role models in our PF space who are living the spirit of joyful generosity every day. I continue to be amazed by Eric, AKA Mr. FIRE Station, who recently retired early, and who worked a whole extra year to save a fund for future charitable giving. Yes, while I’m trying to find ways to shave weeks off of our working career, Eric hit his full FIRE number and then kept working to save a “one more year” fund to enable him and his wife to donate to charity and invest in social good ventures through their whole lifetimes, not just during the working years. That’s amazing.
What I like best about Mr. FIRE Station’s example is that it isn’t just about giving away money. It’s about the generosity of spirit that’s baked into the very idea. Eric didn’t decide to work an extra year and save that money because he was just thinking about the tax write-offs he’ll enjoy for years. There was clearly a lot more to it, all coming from a place of gratitude and a desire to help others meaningfully. And I’m sure that he got a ton of satisfaction from watching those paychecks roll in to build up that fund. Just as he’ll derive some of his happiness from now on from being able to give and invest in such positive ways.
What Does Joyful Generosity Mean to You?
What do you want your legacy to be, and how can generosity help you achieve that vision? What are some little ways we can all be more generous? Do you have a big vision for generosity in your life? What are some ways to be more generous even before you reach your big goals? Let’s chat about all of it in the comments!