General Question

arcticwolf's avatar

How do I stop having second-thoughts after an act of generosity?

Asked by arcticwolf (33points) February 8th, 2011

I often have niggling regrets after I decide to give things away to friends, or pay for friends’ meals. Even after doing a friend a favour I can’t help but mentally tally how many favours I ought to get in return!

Yesterday I baked 3 cheesecakes, and I brought one over to a close friend’s house for her to sample. I took a quarter and left her with the remaining half. When I got home I thought about how much time the cheesecake took to make, and how much the ingredients cost (it was rum-and-raisin flavoured.. Rum’s not cheap.)

I’m worried that it’s due to my upbringing… In fact I only started fretting about saving the cheesecake because I thought about how my mother might scold me for being overly generous.

How can I get over my inability to be freely giving to friends who I value!

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31 Answers

mammal's avatar

That’s strange, sounds like you are conflicted, generosity has a benefit that goes beyond the cynical calculation of reciprocal value.

optimisticpessimist's avatar

If you can afford to give what you are giving, remind yourself of that when the doubts start. If you cannot, you may be giving in the spur of the moment and need to curb that tendency a little bit.

SABOTEUR's avatar

You misunderstand what you do. In truth, you never actually do anything for (or to) anyone. You do things because you derive pleasure from the action. You minimize that pleasure by expecting gratitude from others, creating a “debt” where no debt previously existed. Recognize that you really only do for yourself; you’ll be much happier.

partyparty's avatar

You are obviously a naturally generous person, and it not only gives you pleasure, but I am sure your friends gain pleasure from your giving personality.
Just enjoy what you are doing and don’t feel guilty about it.

SABOTEUR's avatar

“Guilt” is nothing more than making yourself feel bad over something you did or something you neglected to do. Making oneself feel bad is insanity; it serves no useful purpose…unless one enjoys feeling bad.

SABOTEUR's avatar

Generosity or generous actions are free of attachment. If payment of any kind is expected, there IS no generosity.

SmashTheState's avatar

Last week, I was at the grocery store and the woman ahead of me, obviously a student, couldn’t afford her groceries. She kept removing items one at a time and then re-trying her debit card, until eventually she realized she couldn’t afford anything at all. I paid for her groceries and told her she could pay me back. Then I gave her my phone number. When I did this, I did it in the full knowledge that the it was very unlikely she’d ever call me, and indeed she has not. It’s not that I have enough money that I can throw it away on someone else’s groceries — I am, in point of fact, destitute — but that I have made a conscious decision that this is the way I want to live my life. I don’t resent her, I’m not mad that for whatever reason she has decided not to return the money. I did it of my own free will, in the full awareness of the likely result. As Jack London wrote, “A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.”

If you’re feeling resentment about what you’re doing, then stop doing it. You’re not “naturally generous” as someone else has suggested. You clearly expect some form of tit-for-tat repayment, and you’re angry that people haven’t read your mind. You are pretending that you’re giving a gift, but you’re actually keeping a mental tally of who “owes” you. This isn’t healthy for you, and it’s unfair to them. So stop doing it. Either make it clear that you expect recompense in whatever form you desire it (effuse thanks, gifts-in-kind, cold hard cash, whatever) or stop pretending that you’re Santa Claus.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
Austinlad's avatar

I get the same feeling sometimes. What I’ve learned to do is simply chalk it up to my wiring, try not to dwell on it, and pat myself on the back from doing something nice for someone else.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
Scooby's avatar

I once had a friend who kept tally of all the little favours they did me, from buying me groceries I didn’t need to clothes I would neither wear or donate :-/
All these little favours were banked for when she needed a lift somewhere, always inconvenient for me at the time she needed them…. I found myself being blackmailed on quite a few occasions & sent on guilt trips I neither felt I deserved or enjoyed… needles to say when I eventually pointed out what she was doing the toys went out the pram & we’ve never spoken since! :-/
She did send me a bill for what she thought I owed her!! Lol………..
I replied with a KMA card :-/
That’s just me though……..
As has been said, if you’re making yourself ill over this then just don’t do it, you’ll be outed in the end…

BarnacleBill's avatar

People don’t naturally “expect” you to give them things. If you give people things and expect something back, it’s not generosity. You are expecting to purchase friendship by giving people things. Generosity is selfless; if you were truly generous, you would not give what you do a second thought.

Think about what you posted—you baked 3 cheesecakes, and took a whole one over to a friend’s house to give them a taste? Why? Why not take one piece? Perhaps the real motivation was “look at how beautiful my cheesecake is! Tell me what an amazing baker I am!” Sometimes “generosity” is an attempt to get people to fawn over you.

Stop paying for things for other people, stop taking people things they haven’t asked for. People can pay for their own meals, bake their own cheesecakes. I am saying this as someone who has a history of excessive generosity, and has had to check it at the door. No one has really noticed that I stopped, primarily because they weren’t expecting stuff in the first place.

Coloma's avatar

Right, @BarnacleBill

‘Giving’ with strings, is not giving. It is co-dependancy and manipulation.

I have a friend like this, who swears she is just naturally giving, always has been, but, she is unaware of her own blatent contradictions.
Recently I just laughed to myself when she told me she had taken about 5 days worth of meals to her sick son and his family. Right on the heels of telling me how she wanted to help she said ” Yeah, I told him, must be nice, I sure wish someone would make me a weeks worth of dinners”...Oooh boy!
She then went on to actually admit that she hopes by ‘giving’ that her son will help her someday. Danger, danger….

She is a good person, but, I don’t allow her to do me any ‘favors’ for this reason, I keep it casual thing between us.

lynfromnm's avatar

Generosity sometimes places a burden on people who are not capable of reciprocating. Think about how a friend must feel if you give her something. She’s thinking, “I’m a terrible cook, what am I going to do in return?” If she’s short of funds or it’s difficult to fulfill obligations for some reason, that person feels guilty. They may even start avoiding the source of that guilt—you.

People give to a friendship what they can – materially, emotionally and with the time they give you. Those levels are going to be different for each person. There may be times when you have more to give and times when they have more to give. But friendship IS intended to be reciprocal. People may not be able to return your “generosity” in kind, but if they give their time, emotional support, someone to play Scrabble with – they are giving what they are capable of at that moment.

Seelix's avatar

Favours and little acts of kindness (like sharing a cheesecake) shouldn’t be done with an expectation of reciprocity in mind. I know I don’t like to feel indebted to anyone, so I’d hate for a friend who shared a dessert with me to expect me to do something for them in return. Friendship is about love, not about what your friends can do for you.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Did you enjoy making the cheese cake? Could/should you have eaten the 3200 calories ( 2300 from fat)?
You got the enjoyment of creating and trying something new – without calories.
I’d say you came out ahead.

john65pennington's avatar

Do you realize that if the world had more people like you, that terroism and crimes would be no more? Since this will never happen, be thankful your mother brought a child into the world that is generous and loving to her fellow friends and people on earth.

Never doubt that you will have a special place in heaven for your kind deeds.

marinelife's avatar

It sounds like you have some work to do regarding your warring impulses. i suggest therapy.

Nullo's avatar

Think of how happy you’ve made your friends.

thorninmud's avatar

I respect you for having the self-awareness to see that you have these second thoughts. Almost everyone tries to get some form of recompense for their acts of generosity, often in subtle ways that they would never acknowledge.

The day after the big snowstorm, as I was digging my car out, there was a man I didn’t recognize shoveling out the driveway of the house across our street. We exchanged some small talk. I didn’t ask who he was, but he soon managed to tell me that he was a friend of the woman who lived there. She had been stranded out on the road that night, unable to get home, and so he said that he had come by to shovel her house before she got back, “as a good deed”. Those words were like nails on a blackboard.

He probably didn’t expect anything in return from his friend, and I’m sure she was thrilled to see the shoveled drive when she got home. It was a very thoughtful thing to do. But he still needed the recompense of being admired as a do-gooder. He couldn’t, apparently, have come, shoveled, and left without letting someone know what he had done, even if it was just some random dude across the street. But I bet that, unlike you, he was completely unaware of how he was looking to be compensated.

Look, we all have, to some extent, that grasping little ego that clamors for whatever advantage it can get out of a situation. I’m sure there’s some evolutionary justification for that, so it comes as a standard feature in our brain. Fine. But as we grow and ripen as human beings, we also hopefully develop the ability to see that wheedling little voice for the unsavory influence that it is, and just ignore it. Being aware of it is the first indispensable step, and you’re already there.

Now, realize that that grasping ego isn’t you. It’s just a relic of evolution that persists, even though your more evolved faculties are urging a different view. Then take that different view. See past that protesting ego to the realization that if we have any purpose here at all, it’s to make life more pleasant for others. Period.

Brian1946's avatar


“In fact I only started fretting about saving the cheesecake because I thought about how my mother might scold me for being overly generous.”

Concentrate on what most of the others here have told you, and not on what your mother might say to you.

Summum's avatar

I have a sister in-law that gives, gives and gives but each time she makes sure EVERYONE knows it and she gloats at her being so giving. Frankly if you give expecting something in return then it is not being generous at all. It is being self serving. If you really want to be a giving person do so without expecting anything in return. If you really want to give then volunteer somewhere and make a difference in someone elses life.

stratman37's avatar

Matthew 10:8b
Freely you have received, freely give.

bkcunningham's avatar

@stratman37 you forgot the most important part of the scripture: Matthew 10:8
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons and share the cheesecake.

sliceswiththings's avatar

Remind yourself of the possibility that these people to whom you act generously are having the worst days ever. They got dumped, fired, they’re in a lot of pain, they’re sick, etc. etc. and what you did for them completely brightened their day. After that, they made the decision to be more generous to other people.

sliceswiththings's avatar

I also have been a lot more content since I quit regretting things. I used to agonize over things that were already done, from ordering food at a restaurant to telling someone something and everything in between. If the thing can’t be taken back (or even if it can), why waste time thinking about an alternate outcome? I’ve trained myself to not even let these thoughts enter my mind. If something is done, it doesn’t matter what would happen if it hadn’t been done. Commit to occupying your mind with other thoughts….like cats lying on windowsills in the sun:)

casheroo's avatar

it was just cheesecake…. I love baking for people! I get so much satisfaction when I know they enjoy what I’ve made. It feels so good. Maybe get some joy in that?

BarnacleBill's avatar

I’m imaging someone insisting I take ¾s of a cheesecake that they made. When they leave, I immediately put it in the trash, because I don’t need the 3200 calories from fat. Do I feel guilty? Hell, no. A real friend would have brought me a sliver of cheesecake. Someone that doesn’t like me would want me to eat ¾ of one.

dialectical1's avatar

I must preface comment comes from & pertains to a specific environment, one that has people who take from others without their permission (sometimes stuff I really need), yet others give what they have – but not enough that you can count on someone to be there for me if I really need it. Right now my life is full of issues regarding current or future economic insecurity.

Thus, if I give, it’s usually of something that I either need or could use, but share due to wanting to help sustain good vibes/a sense of community or because someone specifically ask me.

So, for instance, it’s one of those weeks where I’m practically living off of peanut butter – and for health reasons get the “fancy” kind that’s doesn’t have crappy stuff in it – and a friend of mine takes several times more of it than I do… when I’m cutting back on my portions to save $, I’m not thrilled. Thankfully conditions aren’t so dire that this could bring about a grudge, but it is a bit impolite to take significantly larger portions than the one treating you takes for themself.

Another thing is the way people respond. Giving is a social act, & it feels inauthentic to give when it takes a certain kind of effort… the kind of effort that’s nonexistent when you’re freely giving to people who consistently respect & connect with you.

dialectical1's avatar

…(got cut off!)

Thus, if this sort of spirit – where everyone’s boundaries are respected & where there’s mutual appreciation, or whatever you need to give what you’d like to give without having any regrets – is at all lacking, then either do what you can to foster this (including getting others on board with whatever needs to be done). You may need a certain type of atmosphere to feel giving, one that no one else does.

[If you’re not respected (this means many things, but it surprising what kind of treatment we can get used to if we don’t realize there’s an alternative, or somehow thing we deserve it), & the community spirit is one of devaluing others – or even not the right one for you to be in mutual appreciation with – you might even consider finding a new group of friends.]

If none of this seems relevant, I’d definitely explore your motivations in giving (and if it stems from a need for appreciation, this is not at all a wrong need… you just may want to find a more productive means to fulfill it).

Some friends are so amazing in some ways that I deal with how they aren’t able to understand or support me in ways I sometimes need… and look elsewhere to find said interactions. It can be really sad to realize your kickass friend who seems to be your twin in respect to interests & work attitude has no clue how to connect with you regarding your relationships… but it’s often easier to try to adapt to this rather than wishing it away. Find a more straightforward way to get the appreciation you need, if this is the case… eg. even if you just want to cheer people up enough to especially enjoy your time with them, do this cheering up on their own terms, or at least without feeling disappointed if doing it your way doesn’t result in what you wanted.

chewhorse's avatar

Because you didn’t want to do it in the first place.. Your going against your own nature.. Learn to give without regret, not till it hurts.

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