The Giving Season is right around the corner. We spend the fourth quarter of the year digging into pockets and donating to charities. It is a season dedicated to giving, tied to holidays and the time of the year when we can squeeze in our year end tax-deductible donations. But did you know this season is not just a time of year? It is also a time in our lives.

The saying “Tis better to give than to receive” is true! Giving is an act we crave – and not just a few months of the year. Just think of how you feel when you give a gift to someone, and they open it, and joy spreads across their face. Think of the feeling you get when someone is impacted by a charitable donation you made. The giver is the gift recipient; we feel this most deeply in Midlife. But why?

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We are hard-wired to have the desire to give back without expecting anything in return by the time we hit Midlife. This stage in our life is called generativity, a term coined by developmental psychologist Erik Erikson. Generativity strikes in Midlife when we are confident in who we are, feel meaningfully connected with others, and have breathing room to see how our actions can impact others and change the world.

To be generative is to do so without expecting anything in return – it isn’t transactional or a tit-for-tat. The joy in being generative comes from knowing we make a difference in others and the world. We matter, and we are leaving a significant footprint on the planet. Generativity is when we move outside the box-checking goals we have in life like getting an education, a job, a partner, and a settled career. Midlife is the stage in our lives when we want to have emotional gratification in our lives, and generativity is like hitting a grand-slam home run and fulfills us beyond the action of giving.

The issue many midlifers have is the belief that to give back, whether through Philanthropy, mentorship, or volunteering, a person must be at the top of their game. As leadership expert and author of Slingshot, Rahul Bhandari, points out, ”we don’t have to wait until we have reached the top of our fields to give back — we can start giving back from where we are today.” This advice is essential because many midlifers hold off on generative acts because they don’t know how. Giving is particularly difficult because there hasn’t been much information about how and where to give back in meaningful ways in Midlife. There is Philanthropy, which is more than evident between Thanksgiving and Christmas, with pleas for charitable donations from just about everyone. However, this isn’t the generativity all midlifers are looking for. Most are looking for personal meaning that goes beyond a check. But don’t worry; there are several ways to give during the giving season that have sense and can fulfill the generativity itch.  

First, acknowledge that in Midlife, your experience is valuable. No matter what area, you have years of experience that count for much more than most midlifers give themselves credit. You don’t need to wait any longer.  

Second, you don’t have to look far to give back. You can mentor someone at work in another department, junior to your rank, or thinking of changing careers and looking for advice to get into your field. You can also mentor someone in your area of interest, but for an outside organization. Plenty of nonprofits are looking for volunteers and mentors to help.  

Third, find out what is meaningful to you. What impact do you want to make? Do you want to pass on your values? Giving can be done through your house of worship or community centers. Do you want to impart your skills or knowledge to someone? Giving in this way can be done informally or formally at work, in nonprofits, and with family and friends.  

We all have unique skills and talents. And it is never too early or too late to start giving. Every season is the giving season!

If you enjoy this, you can find more of my contributions at Psychology Today!

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Deborah Heiser, PhD The Right Side of 40

Deborah Heiser, PhD is an Applied Developmental Psychologist with a specialty in Aging. I'm a researcher, TEDx speaker, contributor for Psychology Today, Substack blogger, CEO of The Mentor Project, and adjunct professor of Psychology.

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