December 10, 2011

Are you happy because you are generous to your spouse?

Or are you generous to your spouse because you are happily married to him/her?

I should just say "her," because this article, in the NYT is surely aimed at women, who are invited to think about whether their husbands are generous enough. There's a study cited, naturally, but the study did little other than correlate self-reported happiness with answers to questions about how often the spouse performed acts of generosity.

I love this from the comments at the Times:
Someone should do a study of how many thoughtful writers in the NYT have jobbed out their own fine judgment to a "study" in the past, say, year. David Brooks, a fine and compassionate writer, is just one leading example among many.

This article is in the same vein. We should do this or that, be this way or that, "in order to" make our marriages work better, or whatever.

Generosity is a profoundly natural human impulse. What has happened to bury that natural impulse?

If I bring my partner coffee IN ORDER TO make our marriage better, then it isn't really generosity. It's simply mutual self-interest. Another dreary arms-length dealing. Instrumental and conditional "love" is no love at all. Love brings coffee because it brings coffee. It needs no empirical study.

What if someone acts generously on the expectation of better "results" that don't happen? Then what? Kindness can make a great difference, but only if we come FROM kindness, rather than trying to get TO kindness by justifying it with empirical studies.

Even the most profoundly spiritual things are, in our society, subjected to the utilitarian slavery of statistical studies. The minute we say "in order to", the conversation is over. We are simply acting as machines made of meat. We are ignoring the spark of the divine in everyone.

That spark yearns to fetch coffee and do a million other kindnesses. Forget the metric-worshiping statistical STUDIES! Listen to your heart!
Boldface added.


AJ Lynch said...

"listen to your heart". Ok but I will have to turn down the volume on the Nat King Cole Xmas CD I have playing.

Which your readers should buy at Amazon via Althouse. I highly recommend it - CD album title is "The Christmas Song".

DADvocate said...

I suppose there is always an element of personal gain in generosity, if just for "feeling" good. How long can you love someone who doesn't return love?

Yet, some people keep accounting in their head for whatever they do for someone and expect equal or more return. This isn't love or generosity, it's using others.

My other question is how accurate are the rates of generous acts the subjects reported? Self reporting can vary wildly from reality.

EDH said...

If I bring my partner coffee IN ORDER TO make our marriage better, then it isn't really generosity. It's simply mutual self-interest. Another dreary arms-length dealing. Instrumental and conditional "love" is no love at all. Love brings coffee because it brings coffee. It needs no empirical study..."

"Listen to your heart!"

You think you're gonna take her away
With your money and your cocaine
Keep thinkin' that her mind is gonna change
But I know everything is okay

She's gonna listen to her heart

It's gonna tell her what to do
Well, she might need a lot of lovin'
But she don't need you

You want me to think that I'm being used
You want her to think it's over
Can't you see it don't matter what you do
Buddy you don't even know her

And you just can't creep up behind her
And you can't understand that she's my girl
She's my girl

DADvocate said...

Nobody sings a Christmas carol better then Nat King Cole.

traditionalguy said...

The art of intimate relationships requires a mutual respect.

But many men and women are withdrawn and fearful of rejection, so they hold back.

The giver is the strong one who uses generosity to open the partner to also give themselves without fear. Reciprocity is the goal.

So it is a method. But it really works.

God tells us to never come before him without a gift. He accepts Praise as our gift.

Wives want flowers and romantic words.

Joe Schmoe said...

My wife and I don't care who brings the coffee, we just want our damn coffee.

traditionalguy said...

Oh yeah, the men like ceramic watches as gifts.

Ann Althouse said...

"Oh yeah, the men like ceramic watches as gifts."

Try to pick the Chanel one. Please!

ndspinelli said...

Cheapskates and scorekeepers used to really irritate me. But, as I age I have come to see they are the losers. There is such a good feeling being generous and a team player. And, those who aren't of that spirit lose out so much. Now, I am increasingly becoming a bit more empathetic to them. I see in some cheapskates they really don't value themselves and are cheap on themselves as well as others.

When I first moved to Wi. and before my biz was enough to be full time, I bartended to help makes ends meet. I had bartended in college and it was a natural to help hone my skills in reading people. While Cheeseheads are pleasant, there are a large number of cheapskates. And, they're like a good canoe..they don't tip.

And here's a tip for all. Tip a bartender up front after you're first drink, if you know you'll be there for a few. See the difference in service and pours. A good bartender will reward your generosity w/ generosity.

sorepaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ndspinelli said...

And just look @ the professor. She shows her generosity daily w/ gift ideas from Amazon. God bless her.

AJ Lynch said...


I bartended for ten years in college and after.

When a new customer tipped me in advance, my early warning system went off meaning that I knew that customer was a problem waiting to happen. My early warning system was usually right.

But if I knew he was also a bartender, that was a bit different but bartenders ain't angels either when they are on the drinking side of the bar.

Bender said...

Thanks for that bit of personal scorekeeping nd. But maybe it is your EMPLOYER who is the cheapskate, not customers who are already paying $$ for their drinks as it is. The service of the drink is included in the price. If not, then it would be self-serve at the bar, like it is at McDonalds (or at home, where they don't have to tip either).

traditionalguy said...

OK, I checked on Chanel watches.

There must be a misprint adding a zero to the end of every price quote.

My wife would kill me for spending 7k on a watch that could have been spent on a Crystal cruise. She is Presbyterian.

pm317 said...

Yeah, that comment is spot on. I am tired of liberals proselytizing for the good life. Why do they do that?

ndspinelli said...

Bender is obviously a good canoe. I hear what you say from cheapskates all the time.

AJ Lynch, we obviously have very different experiences. C'est la vie.

PWS said...

I like the comment but it leaves out the effect of the generosity (or contrived generosity) on the recipient.

Can my spouse tell the difference between 100% genuine generosity and generosity that is say, 80% genuine, and 20% NY Times inspired?

I think the behavior matters a great deal, not just the motivation.

It may not be sustainable if it's not genuine or inherent, but one way to change attitude is by behavior, even if it is insincere in the beginning.

edutcher said...

I enjoy giving The Blonde things I think she'd like, but, not long after we met, I wanted to get her a birthday present.

Went to one of the nicer jewelry stores in the area and picked out a pendant. The salesgirl said, "You have excellent taste. That's $4000", and I asked to see something with a little less taste.

I told Herself the story and she laughed and said I did the right thing, as far as she was concerned.

Being considerate and thoughtful is the real gift, price tags are irrelevant.

David said...

I am very happily.

I have never been so happily before.

My spouse and I are mutually generous.

It's a good recipe for happilyness.

ndspinelli said...

The true test of generosity is being generous to people you don't like. I did so just this morning.

Roger Sweeny said...

But my wife likes tea.

So I bring her that.

Scott M said...

I'm happy because my wife and I have, through our own tendencies and those we have developed naturally together, been generous to our children. This isn't to say that we're spoiling them at all, in fact far from it. Material generosity pales in comparison to simple, unalterably straightforward time.

I would say that more than fifty percent of the time I would much rather being doing something else, but I recognize that our 2, 4, and 7 year olds desperately need our attention, whether we're doing chores, crafts, playgrounds, whatever.

I'm happy, and my wife gets ridiculously happy, when we spend time together doing thing with and for the kids. Yes, "personal growth" must be somewhat put on hold for a while. I can get four hours of sleep a night and stay up to do things on my own and for myself, but too much of that sort of thing starts making you...fuzzy.

Chip S. said...

I keep things simple by only dating masochists.

n.n said...

Well, this is certainly novel. An actual attempt to distinguish between cause and effect.

I'll guess a little of both. The underlying order in our universe is designed as a feedback system. As we defy the natural (i.e. instinctive) and enlightened (i.e. conscious) orders, there follows a progressive dysfunction and destruction.

This will, of course, be rejected by individuals who discount the fundamental concept of freewill.

Of course, there has never been an experiment described, let alone conducted, which is capable of distinguishing between origin and expression. Well, not any that I am aware of, anyway.

I'll err on the side of enlightenment, rather than an overriding concern for self-preservation, where the former has been well-documented historically and throughout our world.

We know there are individuals with delusions of grandeur. We know that there are individuals who choose to fail. We also know that all of us are vulnerable to temptation and therefore to corruption. However, these are all circumstantial and degreed.

bagoh20 said...

I would bring a one-night stand coffee. She might just like some coffee.

Synova said...

Doing something nice for someone because they will be in a better mood and that makes your life nicer because they're likely to be nice to you back, isn't the same as being a scorekeeper.

Nor is doing something nice for someone because you ought to, because that's what spouses are *supposed* to do, the same thing as denying yourself or being a doormat or whipped or whatever.

Listen to your heart? What if your heart isn't in a good mood today? You can have all those days when you listen to your heart and get off on how good you feel toward the other person, but I defy anyone to find a human being that has a heart that's always loving or a heart that's always giving or doesn't, on occasion, wish all of their personal responsibilities would just go away. Far away.

And then you get over it. You get some sleep. Adjust your blood sugar. Realize that the other person is under the same stresses as you are. And you get over it.

Doing what you don't FEEL like doing is so often presented as something harmful or dishonest. People are idiots. If we all treated the people closest to us, who have a legitimate call on our kindness, well, no matter if we're in a loving mood or not, the world would be a much better place.

Vegetable House said...

There would be a lot more happy marriages if more people realized that making being generous to their spouses makes them more happy in the long run than manipulating their spouses into giving them what they want. "If I get what I want, then I will be happy" is a lie. (Could someone inform the occupiers?) A related lie is "I can't be happy unless I get what I want."
Being generous is a more effective route toward happiness. Being generous to your spouse is a good place to start!

pduggie said...

Can a gift really be given?

pduggie said...

A simpler summary of Milbank (?) is here, from one of his students

Odin86 said...

I enjoy a lot by read your post.This is one of the cheerful post.Thanks for your collection.

*if you buy something, example coffee or delonghi esam3300, you can read this for your information, because they have a good content for custumer guide..