The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.

—Samuel Johnson

I recently attended a Broadway show with my husband. Afterward, the actors came out into the audience to raise funds for Broadway Cares, an organization that educates the public about HIV/AIDS. I made a modest donation and was given a fully autographed poster in exchange. As I left, poster in hand, I couldn’t help but think about the number of charities that now offer a gift or prize in exchange for donations.

Doesn’t this seem backward? Shouldn’t supporting the cause be enough of a prize? Has our culture become so unwilling to offer genuine contributions that organizations need to bribe us into them? I believe that if we want to live a life of positive contribution, the first thing we need to do is lose the agenda.

How No-Strings-Attached Giving Improves Our Outlook

The secret to living a life of joyful contribution is to give withoutexpectation. In a world where we are always trying to monetize our interactions and wondering how to make every move “a wise investment,” giving freely may be the toughest, yet most essential lesson we can learn.

One of my favorite books growing up was Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. While the story initially depressed me, I grew to understand that wholehearted, unconditional giving was the source of the tree’s joy. Unlike many people, the giving tree had no hidden agenda or expectation of return as it gave to the boy. It simply gave and gave until it had nothing left.

As the tree gave, it wasn’t thinking about how to transform the giving into a Facebook post or how to wear the free T-shirt it would get in return; it simply gave because it was able. This tree was an altruist, acting out of selfless concern for the welfare of another, and this is the model that I believe we should all aspire to.

Lose the Agenda, Improve Your Life

What makes us want to give? Is it the feeling contributing grants us? Maybe it’s the free stuff or the social media bragging rights we’ll gain from attending a charitable event. Maybe (hopefully) it’s the fact that we know giving makes us better people and improves the world around us. When we can ditch the self-serving agendas so often associated with charitable contribution, we can start to experience the healing benefits of giving. No longer are we contributing to advance our own positions in the world; instead, we give to be a part of a good and wholesome thing that is much, much bigger than ourselves.