The Gift of Generosity

March 25, 2020
Robert C. Ross, Trail Conference Life Member
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


The Gift of Generosity


Over the years, I’ve learned that generosity is paradoxical. By giving, I receive back; by spending myself for others’ wellbeing, I enhance my own wellbeing.

Even as a little kid, I was generous. In this picture, I am 2, happy, eager to see what is going to happen next. I have a block in my hand, and my mom told me I wanted to give it to a little girl I heard crying in the next room in the hopes of cheering her up. I am truly blessed that instinct is alive and well in me today.

So it was with great interest that I read The Paradox of Generosity by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson. The book is a broad sociological study of a wide range of Americans proving the scientific basis that generosity really works.

First, the authors have found that the more generous Americans are, the more happiness, health, and purpose in life they enjoy. This association between generous practices and personal wellbeing is strong and highly consistent across a variety of types of generous practices and measures of wellbeing.

Second, they believe that generous practices actually create enhanced personal wellbeing. Certain well-known, causal mechanisms explain to them the specific ways that generous practices shape positive wellbeing outcomes. Third, the way Americans talk about generosity confirms and illustrates the first two points. The paradox of generosity is evident in the lives of Americans.

Despite all of this, it turns out that many Americans fail to live generous lives. A lot of Americans are indeed very generous—but even more are not. And so, the latter are deprived, by their lack of generosity, of the greater wellbeing that generous practices would likely afford them. This is the second paradox of generosity.

Many wise writers, philosophers, religious teachers, sages, and mystics have been teaching us about the paradox of generosity for thousands of years. What today’s empirical social science research tells us only confirms what we might have known all along, had we trusted traditional teachers. As Smith and Davidson write: “That, in brief, is the story of this book.”

That leaves for each of us: Will we live generous lives, or won’t we?

For me, the answer is simple: It makes me very happy to not have to think about giving things away

The Impact of Trail Angels’ Forethought

For 100 years, the Trail Conference has been a vital, vibrant organization caring for public lands and helping people connect with nature. That’s only thanks to the incredible generosity of the volunteers and supporters who donate their time and resources to protect greenspace in this region—the most densely populated region in the nation.

We are grateful for the foresight of those in the early 1900s—and those who have come since—who insisted on keeping so many wild places throughout the greater New York metropolitan area wild. And we are grateful for the forethought of those who commit to the continued protection of those lands by joining the Trail Angel Society.

Members of this special group have chosen to secure the Trail Conference’s future through planned gifts. They share the common bond of generosity and vision to ensure that the trails and natural areas we share are sustainable and accessible for all to enjoy for generations to come. We invite you to join with others who share that passion by becoming a founding member of the Trail Angel Society.

By filling out the pledge form, you will ensure the Trail Conference benefits from the philanthropy of our Trail Angels both now and in the future. For every intention form we receive, a generous donor will give the Trail Conference $500 to support our efforts today.

For further questions, please click here or contact Membership and Development Director Don Weise at [email protected] or 201.512.9348 x813.

Trail Angel Society Founding Members

  • Anonymous Donor (14x)
  • Hatire Aikebaier
  • Jill H. Arbuckle
  • Frank M. Bamberger
  • Susan Barbuto
  • Raymond F. Begin
  • Dr. RKie Clark
  • Jane Daniels
  • Walter E. Daniels
  • Kathleen Davies
  • Roger Dubin
  • Geoff Fonseca
  • Frank Genna
  • Frederick J. Gerty
  • Judith Green
  • Pete Heckler
  • Joshua E. Howard
  • James Jansen
  • Chester F. Kaplan
  • John Kolp
  • Jane A. Levenson
  • Michael Ling
  • Leonard J. Lyon MD
  • Susan Lyon
  • Gay Mayer
  • Mary Mayer
  • Daniel A. Nickolich
  • Deborah Padula-Genna
  • Audrey Roco
  • Robert C. Ross
  • Raymond Russell
  • James Sciales
  • Phyllis A. Stewart
  • John H. Swanson
  • Ernest G. Tornincasa
  • Lawrence Tsao
  • Ann Marie Walker
  • William C. Ward Jr.
  • Don L. Weise
  • Edward B. Whitney
  • Patsy Wooters
  • Roy F. Wooters
  • H. Neil Zimmerman