The Mindset and Motives of Giving

what are your motives for giving

When it comes to the simple act of giving motives and mindset really matter. Many of us are unconsciously so self-centered that everything we do, even within our closest relationships, is actually bartering rather than unconditional giving. This can be true even when we are dealing with ourselves as I pointed out in an article called What Do You Think You Deserve?

We all realize that giving on any level feels really good, but internally all forms of giving are not created equal.  This is where motives come in. When we give with the expectation of receiving something in return, we are not really giving from a pure motive. But when we give from a generous heart, the joy of giving becomes its own reward.

What role does mindset play?

When you give from a generous heart you become part of a giant positive feedback loop grounded an abundance mindset. This is an empowering mindset that fuels both giving and receiving because their is no resistance involved. There is a free flow of the giving energy and it feels equally good on either end.

The opposite of abundance is a scarcity mindset. There is no real energy flow here because scarcity is about limits and resistance. Of course, in reality, there is rarely any scarcity, just unequal distribution. Hoarding and clinging come from this mindset, both of which create an extremely limiting perception of reality.

When your motive is giving from the heart and your mindset is one of abundance, that positive energy can come back to you in some very unpredictable ways. But remember, if you are giving simply to get something back, then you put limits on the ways that you can receive. You cannot be giving without expectation and be hoarding at the same time.

Some benefits of unselfish giving

Here are some ways that unselfish giving can have a beneficial effect on you.

1. Giving feels satisfying. When you give without wanting anything in return it opens up your heart to an enhanced sense of peace, love and joy. Because your motive is pure, your heart is free to experience giving at the highest level.

2. Giving stimulates gratitude.  Giving without expectation will feed your abundance mindset and elevate your personal awareness of others. As a result, you will feel increasing levels of compassion and gratitude simultaneously.

3. Giving attracts giving. What you put into the world has a powerful influence on what you receive. This is part of that part of that giant positive feedback loop grounded an abundance mindset that I mentioned.  Giving from a pure motive has a very positive influence on how you experience your world.

4. Giving makes you aware of limiting beliefs. When limiting beliefs are revealed in motives like selfishness and greed they are  exposed to your conscious awareness, then you can work on letting them go. If you are unaware of their existence, they remain active in your subconscious. If they continue unchecked, you may wind up attracting the exact opposite of what you want.

Giving from a generous heart and an abundance mindset

On some level it seems that we are all susceptible to the idea of scarcity. Having a scarcity mindset is like going through life trying to fill up a bag with a hole in the bottom. Hoarding creates scarcity because it is based on the perception that everything is limited and it ignores the amazing benefits of unselfish giving.

One of the best ways to say no to the mentality of scarcity is to actively seek out ways to make meaningful and unselfish contributions of your time, energy, and other resources. I encourage you to embrace a more empowering mindset and be determined to give without expectation.

How does giving without expectation feel to you?
Do you find it difficult to let go of expecting something in return?
The lines are open!

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  1. Nea January 11, 2011 Reply

    I have learned to give without expecting something in return, but it was hard for me. Call it only-child syndrome.

    As we learn better, we do better. What I learned was that everything (good and bad) has a way of coming back to us. I can’t be good to someone else without in turn being good to myself. Giving feels good…in fact it feels great.

    • Jonathan January 11, 2011 Reply

      Hi Nea, one of the ways that things seem to come back to us has a lot to do with how our own actions influence our focus. A person who is giving tends to notice the acts of kindness around them. Someone who is selfish sees scarcity in their own life no matter how much they have because that is what their perception is founded on.

  2. Mitch January 11, 2011 Reply

    Interesting post, I must say. I say that for two reasons. One, because I recently wrote a post on a similar topic. Two, because I think that question is kind of a conundrum in answering it.

    For instance, everything you mentioned above as far as feelings are good things, very commendable. Yet, except for one of them, they’re all self serving in the end in some fashion. If you do something because it makes you feel good, whether it’s intentional or not, it’s not necessarily without expectation.

    I tend to be one of those people who believes that every action a person takes ends up either benefiting them or harming them in some fashion, whether they intend for it to occur or not. It pretty much has to; humans are emotional beings and will end up feeling something one way or the other. I posed the question on my blog as to whether the reason for someone doing something for others needs to be questioned or not. I came to the conclusion that there are no firm, hard answers to the question. It all depends on who’s giving and who’s receiving.

    Intriguing thing to think about; great post.

    • Jonathan January 11, 2011 Reply

      Hey Mitch, thanks for sharing your observations. You are right of course about how we benefit ourselves by benefiting others. I don’t think anyone is totally selfless. We will always move toward that which feels rewarding. The difference really comes down to motive. Was the motivation to make someone else feel good with the added bonus that we felt good also? Or was it the other way around?

  3. Sandra Lee January 11, 2011 Reply

    Jonathan ~ This is an incredible perspective: “In reality, there is no scarcity, just unequal distribution.” This article really gave me a fuller view of giving without expectation. Thank you!

    • Jonathan January 11, 2011 Reply

      Thanks Sandra, without greed there would be no scarcity. We live in a world where a few have much more that they could ever need and consequently, the many live with scarcity.

  4. Tess January 11, 2011 Reply

    Giving without expectation isn’t easy to do. And just when I think I’m getting good at it, ha!

    Even desiring a thank you is an expectation.

    I think when I examine my intention before I give it puts me on the right path.

    • Jonathan January 11, 2011 Reply

      Hi Tess, I agree on all points and your comment really highlights the importance of motive and intention. It’s the difference between generosity and selfishness.

  5. Dandy January 11, 2011 Reply

    Wonderful post Jonathan. I’ve experienced some people who do volunteer work for the only purpose of bragging about it or being able to one-up someone else. Then there are those who give quietly, discretely. Without needing to let others know of their goodness. It speaks for itself. Thanks Jonathan!

    • Jonathan January 11, 2011 Reply

      Hi Dandy, your comment reminds me of a special kind of person who doesn’t feel the need to sign their name when giving a gift because they don’t want the receiver to feel obligated in any way. That’s a very freeing thing to do and I encourage everyone to give it a try and see for themselves.

  6. Kate January 12, 2011 Reply

    I love to give gifts. Over Christmas seeing people open things I had chosen, and seeing their happiness with them was wonderful……..and I didn’t necessarily expect anything back in return.
    However if I give a gift (and this can apply to anything, not just physical, material gifts) I do feel a little disappointed if they aren’t particularly enthusiastic. A quick thanks, and move on leaves me a little flat after the excitement of giving them something I thought would make them happy. (I suppose you never know what will make someone truely happy, but at least give them short term pleasure.)

    So perhaps I do have a lot of work to do before I can really give without expectation!

    • Jonathan January 12, 2011 Reply

      Hi Kate, we all like to feel that the things we do for others are met with appreciation. This seems especially true when we have put a lot of thought into it. All thing considered, giving to grateful, appreciative people tends to be a better experience all around. I don’t think that means that our sole motive is to be appreciated, it’s just a better experience for everyone.

  7. Shailender January 12, 2011 Reply

    I know it’s a very difficult thing to do, giving someone something without any expectation. We’re so busy earning money and trying to buy happiness for ourselves that we don’t have the time to think about it. We always do something so that we can get something in return.

    But I do agree that we should practice giving without expectation as it gives so much satisfaction that you always like to do this thing again and again.

    • Jonathan January 12, 2011 Reply

      Hi Shailender, there is a lot of “me first” programed into us from our culture. That means that we may need to make a special effort before we can experience the joy of giving without expectation.

  8. Stuart January 12, 2011 Reply

    I’ve certainly matured enough over the past 3 years to be able to give without expecting return, and not feel any pain about it.

    I admit, I still expect gifts for Christmas and my birthday, which is the result of consistent gift-giving, year after year. But perhaps, aside from these days, we can abandon our greedy expectations?

    After all, the more you give life, the more life gives you :-)

    • Jonathan January 12, 2011 Reply

      Hey Stuart, what a great phrase: “After all, the more you give life, the more life gives you.” That one will stay with me!

  9. Steven Aitchison January 12, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan. I’ve often given to beggars in the street without expecting anything in return, I know it’s not a great example. The feeling of not expecting a thank you, but just to feel that for one day your money might feed that person or keep them warm is quite humbling, it really helps you appreciate the life you have.

    • Jonathan January 12, 2011 Reply

      Actually Steve, I think that is a perfect example of giving without expectation. Your contribution is very valuable to the receiver, it leaves you feeling good, and there is no way that person can repay you. This is exactly the point. Thanks so much for that example. I feel good just reading about it.

    • Jeff April 11, 2013 Reply

      I think giving to a person less fortunate is a great example of giving without expecting anything in return as the person is not likely to reciprocate any time soon. So I consider that to be the truest and purist form of giving.

  10. Dr Natura January 12, 2011 Reply

    Giving is its own reward. You feel good about yourself, your self esteem increases and you live life with a glow. Sure, you may receive some sort of compensation down the line, especially when you need a favor from the other person, but you shouldn’t think of such things.

    • Jonathan January 13, 2011 Reply

      Nice perspective Doc. I love this: “Giving is its own reward.” That is true on so many levels.

  11. Rocket Bunny January 13, 2011 Reply

    Hi there,

    I agree with everyone here. One of the best rewards in life is giving.

    Enjoyed your article.

    • Jonathan January 13, 2011 Reply

      Hi Bunny and thanks for being one who appreciates giving. Maybe the collective voice will convince those who aren’t big on the idea to give it a try! So nice to have you here.

  12. Daisey January 14, 2011 Reply

    If people have the courage to look at the whole world view of the reality of human relationships, in the framework of the human condition, then they would come to the light of the truth that being selfless, giving without expectation, sacrificial love, does Not Always bring back to the giver good things. I’m not going to even try to convince some of you of this because it seems that would be to no avail. Life is not black and white. There are many things that happen to genuinely loving people that don’t make sense and for which there will be no answers this side of the grave. The reality that these individuals can continue to be loving and selfless is the greatest mystery.

    • Jonathan January 14, 2011 Reply

      Hi Daisey, first I would like to thank you for your forthright comment. You do introduce some important points and I really appreciate your input. I love it when people have the courage to speak their mind and shine a different light on the conversation.

      Without a doubt, bad things happen to loving, caring and generous people. But I wasn’t saying that giving without expectation would make everything that comes your way be wonderful. Life is not fair or “black and white” and trying to be a really good person won’t change that. Still, those truths don’t negate the benefits of giving unselfishly. If we were to let the fact that bad things happen to good people dictate our level of kindness and generosity, that would be a travesty and we would be our own victims.

      The phrase without expectation means that do it anyway, regardless of the reward or lack of reward. We do it because it feels good to take the high road.

      • Daisey January 14, 2011 Reply

        Thank you for your reply, Jonathan. What was foremost in my thoughts when I responded was the idea that if we do good then good will come back to us – some call it Karma – some believe there is this unwritten law of the universe where what we choose to do, good or bad, comes back to us. My life experience has taught me this isn’t necessarily the case.

        My husband, in the past, has often described me as wanting to change the world. I believe that is because his life up until we met was very simple and he didn’t see himself as having a purpose. I’ve never thought I could do anything to change the world(hard enough to change my self!) but in his view my spontaneous reaction to someone in need and the loving sacrifices he’s seen me make have given him that idea. I am by nature a very giving person. I believe greatly in the value of sacrificial love – giving without counting the cost ( personal cost of one’s time, energy, resources – not necessarily money ). Sometimes the price is very high but I know when I do it from a position of love ( wanting the very best for another person) that cost has never been my focus and it actually can create the energy and strength needed for whatever needs to be done. I’m sure the core values from my missionary background have a lot to do with this.

        What life has dished out to me has been so often experiences I would not wish on my worst enemy (not that I’m aware of any personal enemies but words to convey my point). Some have been caused by the very people I have loved and sacrificed so much for. Yet I don’t regret what I did for them. This is where life makes no sense. Sometimes it amazes me that I still so strongly believe in giving, caring, in sacrificial love, reaching out to anyone in need. Currently my “boat” shows signs of weathering fierce storms and is needing more time to be repaired. I can only surrender the mystery of it all to the One
        I believe ultimately has the world in His hands.

        • Jonathan February 8, 2011 Reply

          The wisest man who ever lived said that there was more happiness in giving than there is in receiving. Interestingly, he did not say that this would guarantee a trouble free way of life, only that we would experience a deep sense of happiness that would not be possible otherwise. Giving is by nature a vulnerable position, while selfishness and greed are defensive and closed.

  13. Matt Clark January 18, 2011 Reply

    So true Johnathan, I just had this discussion with a friend the other day.

    I like to approach it from investing. When you give you are investing in that person, community etc.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Jonathan February 8, 2011 Reply

      Nice perspective Matt. Sometimes it is an investment in humanity in general.

  14. Daniel March 13, 2011 Reply

    Jonathan —

    Hopefully this doesn’t come off as too “lofty” (or … yeesh … arrogant) but it appears to me that finding an authentic way of contributing in life that resonates within oneself is an expression of this same principle. The “mission” makes it possible to develop a relationship with the goal that allows one to give more freely and devote more directed, personal energy than one thought possible before.

    My two cents …

    – Daniel

  15. sytiva May 18, 2011 Reply

    This is so true.. especially if it is from a true place of caring. Never a need to gain a return. Just the experience of true caring would be enough. Even if you found a place of deception, you can forgive and still give if you believe in good grace.. :) If you give to get then you are on a wrong foot. If you give to inspire, create, and see a person grow then the job is already gifted to the universe. :) I truly believe that.. LIVE ON :) I say.. be the best you can be..

  16. Adam January 22, 2012 Reply

    Thanks for posting this article. I’ve grown over the past year to understand many years of ups and downs as a result of my own expectations. As many of us in Western society ‘think’, happiness is about achievements and the success of personal goals. I’ve learnt that this really isn’t the case, and that ridding my life of expectations such as being in a happy relationship or having a big house leads to me being a much happier person.
    I’m now able to do many things that I couldn’t before, such as walking up people and complimenting them without feeling the need for them to return words. I’m not longer scared of what the future holds because I live day by day and achieve what I can without expectation.
    I could describe many ways in which this way of life has changed me for the better!

  17. Joleen October 24, 2012 Reply

    Hello and thank you for all of this wonderful advice. I am actually looking for some advice. Growing up, I was the MOST unselfish and giving person (except when it came to my little brother sometimes, but that is an entirely different story). I volunteered all the time, I loved to give no matter what, and I absolutely loved an opportunity to make someone feel like they are the most special person in the world (without caring if they knew it was me that put it all together).

    Most of the things I did were group efforts regardless of whether it was in fact my idea and I did all the foot work to make things happen. I was very modest. Then, life happened…I was trusting and as giving as ever, and people found this out, and sought to take advantage of me. I turned into a doormat so much that I ended up homeless at age 19, and close to losing the only roof over my head which was my vehicle.

    To pick myself up, I joined the military (because I have too much pride to go home to Mom and Dad in another state and expect them to pay my bills for me), but the hits just kept coming. Basically, I was trained (in leadership training in the Navy) to NOT be a doormat and to be a commanding figure, but that requires you to be selfish, and sometimes heartless…it was a VERY difficult thing for me, but I was put into a do or die situation (literally at times). I tried to keep that mentality separated from my personal life, but when my “fiancé” took off with his mistress and $15,000 of my personal savings and the car, leaving me with nothing but the household furniture and no rent money…my “learned” selfish mentality took over. Now, I have been blessed with a wonderful, caring and giving husband…problem is, I can’t seem to figure out a way to “unlearn” the last 10 years of heartache and pressure to be selfish. HELP!!! I try, but I find myself constantly falling back into the world of expectations, the “why me’s” and selfish mindsets.

    • Jonathan October 26, 2012 Reply

      Hi Joleen, you have just described one of the greatest challenges we face in this world. To be balanced we need to be couscous enough to avoid being taken advantage of, and still be open to all that is good and honorable. I call it couscous optimism. Simply put, experience teaches us to “qualify” people before we put ourselves in a vulnerable position. Your past has left you with certain emotional buttons (programmed response patterns). It’s a form of survival conditioning.

      The next challenge is to gain control over those response patterns so that you can remove them progressively as someone proves themselves to be trustworthy. Explain your situation to your new husband and assure him that you trust him and that you don’t mean to respond as if you don’t. If he continues to build trust into your relationship, as you work to accept his sincere efforts as genuine, you will eventually achieve an acceptable balance.

      Life is a learning experience and often, the lessons that cost us the most end up being the most valuable. But this can only happen if we are good students of life and look for the value in every experience, even the painful ones.

  18. Patsy Sanders October 24, 2012 Reply

    I read what you are saying. Have you ever heard “it is more blessed to give than to receive?” How can that be if the gift is not received or valued? Do we not give believeing that what we have given will benefit the receiver or bring them joy, put a smile on their face or make them happy in some way? Isn’t giving our way of showing our love? So if the gift is never received or opened how is that really a gift and how is there anything positive in knowing that what was given had no value to the person who received. If we do give wanting the gift to bring joy or happiness to the receiver and it doesn’t are we selfish when we are disappointed or hurt. what do you think?

    • Jonathan October 26, 2012 Reply

      Interesting thoughts Patsy. I am having some difficulty imagining the scinario you are describing. But if we want to give a gift to someone who doesn’t want it, at least we are coming from a giving place. That makes it their problem, not ours. We can never control the actions of others, but we can control how we let their response influence us emotionally. And no. it’s not selfish to feel disappointed when someone rejects our good will gestures.

  19. Kevin March 22, 2013 Reply

    I googled “giving without expectation” because I gave something and didn’t get as much as a thankyou. I was not expecting something in return, just a thank you. What I gave was a hand built barn I made in my gararge which took me a month. It was a gift for a 28 month old girl, my girl friends grand daughter. I put a lot of thought into it because I felt very close to her since I was out of work most of her little life. Her grandma was fine with it and appreciated it, but Mom walked in the door, said, ” What the heck is that” and I never heard anything since. I do so much for my girlfriend, her kids and grandkids with very cold response from this daughter. This time it hurt, I spent all this time working probably 40-60 hours and that ungrateful daughter that usually dosen’t even say hello or give eye contact when she walks into a room. Do I forget it like I usually do or say something?

    • Jonathan March 23, 2013 Reply

      Hi Kevin, in a situation like this it’s a good idea to examine your motives for giving and weigh them against the response of the receiver. If the giving causes pain rather that joy, find someone a little more appreciative to focus on. Let’s face it, some people are so self-centered that your kindness is just wasted on them. Your call!

  20. Tim Stretton August 15, 2013 Reply

    I like your post here and many thanks for your input. I read very good points about the giver not expecting anything whilst carrying out the good deed of giving, and that is right in every sense of the word. Giving is a choice. I’ve had many disputes over this one. What about the expectation of the receiver? Is there a true gift to the receiver if the receiver has an expectation from the giver? We are all programmed to behave in a certain manner in our chosen society (chosen is stated operatively here). For example, gentlemen are told that we are expected to buy the first drink on a first date with a woman. With the presence of the expectation, is there a true gift. Of course the receiver will say ‘thank you’ but does that wear a little thin when in essence of the expectation, she doesn’t actually need to say ‘thank you’ at all; she does so just to be polite. This is just one example of many instances of this type. My conclusion to this is that there is no gift in the presence of an expectation from the receiver.

    What are your thoughts. Many thanks.

  21. Danielle January 3, 2014 Reply

    Aloha Jonathan,
    What a great article I landed on when searching “giving without expecting something in return.” I was looking for a quote to write someone I know who doles out things, I’m pretty sure, while expecting something in return, with ulterior motives.

    After living in Hawaii most of my life and learning to “live aloha”, giving and sharing are the lifestyle here. Hawaii is NOT just a beautiful place physically, it’s unique in so many ways. And when we observe people from other places and their unconsciousness about giving or even daily activities like allowing someone to go first, ahead of you, or smiling at other human beings and saying,”Hello” for no reason, or treating service workers as equals, just because they are human beings, we know, there is something special about this place BESIDES the beautiful surroundings.

    Well, after I started quoting some of your words to send to my friend, I realized I DID sort of expect some kind of reciprocation. Not for me but FROM HER, into the universe! I am disappointed that she holds this attitude which I KNOW is not productive and is the REASON our planet, at this point in time, is in so much trouble. UNCONSCIOUSNESS! INGRATITUDE!

    Now it is unconscionable for me to judge her, if we want to pick me apart for this entire statement but sometimes I just want us ALL to wake up from the ‘dumbness’ and numbness and reach the level of knowing, “…there is enough.”

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