Generous Behavior

I’ve often wondered if there are general characteristics of people that lead to success. However, that question requires a definition of success, which I think is hard to fully encompass. There is financial success, there is personal satisfaction/happiness success, there is enduring success (like Newton). Given that success is so hard to define, I decided to reframe the question: what are general characteristics of people I respect, or people I think “have it made” in one way or another?

When I lived in Key West I was lucky enough to attend many dinner parties. The people at these dinner parties were the most gracious people I think I’ve ever met. Aside from ensuring everyone was well fed and seated comfortably, the attendees would work to ensure no one felt left out of the conversation. The attendees would ensure that whoever was speaking was able to express the idea they were trying to communicate, and help if need be. I remember watching these things unfold and couldn’t help but wonder if there was a connection between these people’s concern for others, and their personal financial and happiness success.

Key West dinner parties are one isolated example, except, the evidence mounted when I began looking at my work history. At previous jobs I had coworkers who were extremely friendly and helpful. They’d go out of their way, even drop the project they were on, to go and assist others. Much like the people in Key West, they worked hard to make sure other people were comfortable. Interestingly, these people who had so much concern for other people also seemed the happiest of my coworkers. They had achieved happiness success, and because they were so well respected on the team, they had achieved financial security success.

It still wasn’t clear to me what was going on, so, I looked for other instances of this hard-to-define phenomenon in my life. As a freshman and sophomore in college, I lived next to some folks who (I think) considered themselves hippies. These people didn’t have much physical wealth, however, one was getting a PhD in computer science, his girlfriend was an amazing acrobat, and all of their likeminded friends were all very unique. It was easy to see that they had more than achieved happiness success.

In each case, the individuals were so endearing that I couldn’t help but feel a willingness to return the favor. However, they are so kind I know they wouldn’t ask for things that would be a significant strain on me.

And that is where the magic happens. Let me explain…

It seems nasty to quantify friendship, but lets do it any way. Lets say the kindness of these people is worth 1000 “friend points” to me. After all, being introduced to new people, having a work problem solved for me, or just having a nice weekend is valuable to me. I am now 1000 points richer, but I am indebted to them 1000 points. Well, next time they have a problem in one of my areas of specialty they know they can come to me. In Key West I was always doing computer repairs. For people who don’t know about computers, computer repairs are worth at least 1000 points. However, to me, computer repairs are easy and maybe only cost me 400 points.

So what we have done is created wealth, out of thin air. The 1000 points I originally received was easy for them, costing them 200 points. In return I was willing to spend 1000 points before I felt like things were unfair. However, from their point of view I have given them back 1000 points. In the end I view myself as 600 points richer, and they view themselves 800 points richer. We have created that which did not previously exist, much to Newton’s befuddlement.

There are some considerations I wanted to mention… First, one must be able to give in order to have an ongoing relationship where one receives. This implies that one must work hard in order to be valuable to other people. This also implies that one must be able to understand other people in order to understand what it is that would help them. It also implies one is not going to be able to be friends with all people unless he or she has got something that all people find valuable.

One of the things people value most is time. Finding a balance between enriching yourself so that you are more valuable, while simultaneously engaging in relationship building is difficult.

To answer my original question about general characteristics of people I respect, it seems the answer is that they all have specializations/strengths different from me, and are wiling to share that with me. In the end, it really is all about giving yourself to people.


There are relationships between this model of “friend points” and economic success. Think of the value of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, etc have to offer and their financial success.

The Beatles said “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” I have no idea how they knew so much…

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