The Power of Contagious Generosity | Chris Anderson

Chris AndersonKindness, simple acts of generosity, can change your life. Your relationships, maybe even your community. But, what if there was a way to scale simple acts of kindness on a global scale? Can you imagine how that might make not just in your own life better, but potentially change the world? And, at a time we need it more than ever?

In his new book, Infectious Generosity: The Ultimate Idea Worth Spreading, Chris Anderson explores how to spark a contagion of generosity that spreads around the world. As the longtime, iconic curator of TED, he’s spent over two decades immersed in ideas worth spreading. Under his leadership, TED has grown into a global platform that provides free knowledge to hundreds of millions of people.

Now Chris is on a mission to spread infectious generosity. And, he’s not just imagining some fantasy world where everyone wears rose-colored glasses, he’s gone deep into the research, the stories, and the mechanisms to make it happen. 

And in our conversation, he shares specific insights, strategies and stories to not only start bringing more kindness into your own daily life, but to be part of a global ripple of generosity that just might hold the power to make this world a better, kinder, more connected place. In this age of infinite connection, one small act of generosity can ripple outward in surprising ways. But change starts with a single brave step. That’s where we’re headed today.

You can find Chris at: Website | Instagram | Episode Transcript

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Episode Transcript:

Chris Anderson: [00:00:00] What could you give away that might amaze you? I feel passionate about this because this was our experience at TED. We discovered that after we took the risk, and it was a risk at the time of giving away our content. That is the start of everything good that ever happened to TED. And it forced us almost to adopt this strategy of radical generosity. Generosity is instinctive. The desire to respond to generosity is instinctive. The desire to be uplifted when you see someone else being generous is instinctive. Those three things together in an age where we’re connected like never before. That is what creates this incredible engine of possibility that we really could imagine. An era where acts of kindness spread like never before.


Jonathan Fields: [00:00:47] So kindness, simple act of generosity, can change your life, your relationships, maybe even your community. But what if there was a way to scale simple acts of kindness on a global level? Can you imagine how that might make not just your own life better, but potentially change the world? And at a time, we need it more than ever. In his new book, Infectious Generosity The Ultimate Idea Worth Spreading, Chris Anderson explores how to spark contagion of generosity that spreads around the world. And as a longtime iconic curator of TEDx, he spent over two decades immersed in ideas worth spreading. Under his leadership, TED has grown into a global platform that provides free knowledge to hundreds of millions of people. And now Chris is on a bit of a mission to spread infectious generosity. And he’s not just imagining some fantasy world where everyone wears rose-colored glasses. He’s gone deep into the research, the stories, and the mechanisms to make it happen. And in our conversation, he shares specific insights, strategies, and stories to not only start bringing more kindness into your daily life, but to be a part of the global ripple of generosity that just might hold the power to make this world a better, kinder, more connected place. In this age of infinite connection, one small act of generosity truly can ripple out in surprising ways. And change starts with one brave move. That’s where we’re headed today. So excited to share this conversation with you. I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.


Jonathan Fields: [00:02:25] The topic that you’re really diving into in the new book, Infectious Generosity, is, on the one hand, I want to say it’s of the moment, but it’s so just interconnected with the human condition that it’s always of the moment. It’s just we seem to be focusing back on it in a different way, and I feel like a lot of this is related to what you write about, which is this notion that it’s felt for so many people, like culture in general, is just trending meaner and more self-centered in a lot of different ways. Take me into what you see going on here.


Chris Anderson: [00:02:56] I think the world is getting meaner and I’m sick of it. I think most people are sick of it. And I think, and I hate to say this because I’m a tech optimist. I guess at heart. I think the internet’s played a meaningful role in this. The last ten years of the internet have been crushingly disappointing. Social media, especially, has found a way to dial up the angriest, most divisive voices, and I think has really shaped how we think of each other and talk about each other. I think it’s really dangerous, and it’s a big motivator for the book, really. I mean, one way of thinking about the book is that it’s an attempt to figure out, can we turn the tide here? Can we use can we find a way in which acts of kindness become more prevalent instead of just acts of nastiness?


Jonathan Fields: [00:03:47] Um, so take me a little bit more into the argument around social media and also just media writ large. You know, I think at this point, the organization that you’ve sort of been in part the face of, you know, like deeply involved in curating conversations around for more than two decades now. It is a part of culture. It is a part of what a lot of people would think as both new and old media at this point as well. But you’ve done it very differently. But what are you seeing more specifically, like what’s happening underneath the hood that you feel is driving this part of the human impulse? Because it’s not the only part of the human impulse?


Chris Anderson: [00:04:21] No, that’s right. I think for me, there’s two main things. I mean, first of all, I think a lot of people are familiar with these cognitive biases we have towards threats. We pay more attention to threats than to opportunities. Probably helped us survive at some point. But it means that people who use the language of of threat gain more attention. It’s just, you know, you’re just tapping into, you know, human focus. And there’s another reason why news media in general and certainly social media, I think painting on average, actually a false picture of the world. And it’s this good things happen slowly. Bad things happen quickly. This is just part of the the way the universe is. You know, it’s a chaotic thing out there. For something good to happen, people have to plan it. They have to intentionally reorganize things to make something good. A building is designed and it can take years for that to happen, and then years for it to get built and go through all the approval processes and so forth. At no stage, at no moment does someone say hold the front page. A newb was laid, but a bomb can take down that building in a minute. If the question that you’re asking and most news media are asking this question is what is the most dramatic thing that happened in the last few hours? Almost always, the answer to that is going to be bad. And collectively that means we listen to the news and what we hear is bad and then bad, and then more bad. And that cumulative effect of that is actually to give us a false view of the world, because we’re missing all of those slow but good things that have been happening in the background. We just don’t pay attention to them. And so, you know, we think the worst of ourselves and of the world, and we feel despair when we think of the future. I just I think that’s that’s really, really, really unfortunate. And it’s getting to the point where it’s quite dangerous.


Jonathan Fields: [00:06:20] Now that makes a lot of sense, you know? And then when you fold in the notion that social media, where now so many people actually get their news, get it like this is where they become informed about the world, not just, you know, I remember in the very early days of Facebook, where there were only a couple of things you could do on there. It was more like sharing what you were doing at any given moment. It’s not that anymore. None of these platforms are when so much of what you’re exposed to becomes algorithmically determined, and those algorithms are tuned to what will make you stay on the platform for as long as humanly possible because of the business model is around advertising, then what you’re saying makes a lot of sense from a sort of a quote, just a pure business, a profit and loss standpoint. Well, sure. You know, if outrage and rage and bad things are going to keep you tuned in because of the threat response we have, let’s just keep feeding you that in the algorithm, because that’ll keep you there longer and it’ll generate more exposure to advertising. So it seems like the newer media is sort of piling on to what more traditional broadcast media has known for generations now about attention spans.


Chris Anderson: [00:07:26] Yeah, I think that’s right. And I don’t myself see it as this, um, evil plot that a bunch of people plan. I think the algorithms discovered it about us, that what we pay most attention to is often dark, and that just got amplified and amplified. But if you do all this amplifying of our lizard brains, at some point you basically turn us all into lizards. That’s not good. I don’t want to live in a world of lizards. I want to live in a world where the better part of ourselves, our better angels, are in control and finding ways of, you know, telling different kinds of stories. And those other stories are everywhere and very real, and they’re just invisible. And it’s a tragedy.


Jonathan Fields: [00:08:07] And that’s such an important point, you know, to come back to. Also, it’s this when all we see is the negativity, it is so easy for us to default to the assumption that, well, this is the world. What you’re offering is let’s not put our heads in the sand. This is a part of the world. This is a part of the human story, but it’s not the entirety of it. You know, there’s so much more that is good, that is connecting, that is generous and benevolent, that we’re not telling.


Chris Anderson: [00:08:30] That’s right. And in the connected age that we’re in, even more amazingly, the good things that can happen with a little bit of tweaking and a little bit of pushing can actually spread further. Because when millions of people are connected to millions of people, you have this amazing phenomenon called virality, where if ten people pass things on to 11 people, suddenly millions of people come to know about it. So the difference, like when you think about the work that you’re doing, say you’re a marketer or a storyteller or you just want good things for the world, you might think, well, I just have to work a bit harder to get that many more people to do it. Yeah, you may reach a point where suddenly interest explodes. If you can find that point and cross it, then you’re 20% of extra effort. Doesn’t just mean 20% more people here, it may mean thousands of percent more people here. And so it’s worth so much just paying attention to what it takes to cross that chasm and to reach that, you know, what makes something ignite. And often it’s it can be quite small, you know, it may be quite a small difference. We it’s definitely true that left to our own devices, the good things we share are more boring than the bad things we share. It’s just who we are that is worth paying attention to and trying to correct. Can we make the good things non-boring? If we do, it changes everything.


Jonathan Fields: [00:09:55] Yeah, no, that makes so much sense. And it’s funny as you’re describing that I’m. Thinking my brain was literally scanning. What was the last thing that I happened to see on some social feed that I just immediately felt an impulse to share with everybody I know, and it was deeply positive. It was a thing that left a lump in my throat for the best of reasons. So it is possible, like we can actually cross that chasm and say, like, this is the stuff too.


Chris Anderson: [00:10:18] And what you said right there is one of the key reasons why things go viral. You said a lump in your throat, you felt emotion. You felt a deep emotion. When people feel a powerful emotion about something, they will share it, they will spread it. And um, unfortunately, a lot of the powerful emotions people feel are darker emotions. Every emotion can lead to things, things being shared. And so sometimes it’s just the way we tell a story, sometimes where we’re lazy, sometimes we don’t really put ourselves into revealing the actual human aspect of what we’re talking about. I mean, I’m at fault in this a lot as well. I’ll tell a talk and it’ll sound, I don’t know, over heady or something like that. I’ll then tell a story about, I don’t know how I was inspired by my mother and how, you know, although she passed away a couple of months ago, I’m so grateful to her. I’m inspired by her and some of what she taught and what she lived. I really, really want to be shared further and to be out there in in the world. So figuring out how we share stories in a way that taps into who we authentically are as humans, that’s definitely a big part of it. That’s one of the catalysts that can make all the difference.


Jonathan Fields: [00:11:36] Yeah. So I want to tease out two different things that we’ve kind of been weaving into one conversation. One is the notion of how do we share in a way where a lot of people are moved by it and then decide to share it as well? But the fundamental thing underneath that is how do we share the stories, the impulses around the good, around the part of human nature, the generosity of spirit that really centers that part of the story, so that we can make that more a part of our life and part of our experience. So talk to me a bit about just the notion of generosity in general. It’s interesting. I was recently talking to a friend who gave a keynote, and she proposed to the audience that human beings are fundamentally good, that they’re generous, that they’re kind in the line of questioners. At the end of that talk, she got a lot of pushback, and a lot of people were saying, no, like, this is not my understanding. This is not my teaching. In fact, this was not my maybe even faith tradition. Talk to me about your lens on this.


Chris Anderson: [00:12:33] Yeah, it’s not quite how I’d frame it. I’m with Solzhenitsyn, I think, on this that the line between good and evil doesn’t run between nations or identity groups or classes. It runs through every human heart. I think we are fundamentally good and also fundamentally bad, and it depends on the moment and the circumstance. And what’s so complicated about this is that we’re a social species. Everything that each of us does has ripple effects with others. And so, yeah, I resonate with what that one comment of, you know, that your faith tradition may not have taught that I was definitely brought up religious. I was brought that, you know, we we were born into sin, as it were. That feels a creepy worldview to people now for understandable reasons. But I think how that worked out in practice is that we viewed life as as this battle between your, you know, between God and the devil inside you. You know, your inner demons, you’re in an angels, whatever language you want to talk about. And that forced you to pay attention to how you felt about individual things, like it forced you to try to find the better side of yourself. I think people have dark sides to themselves, and in the current environment, those dark sides can easily be aroused and dominate who we are, and we can become people who are actually not that proud of being. We can become patient and dismissive and angry and all those things. And the language I use now is not demons and angels, but it’s our instinctive self and our effective self and our instinctive self isn’t all demonic.


Chris Anderson: [00:14:11] It’s actually very good. As Danny Kahneman would say. It’s it’s our system one thinking, it’s unconscious, it’s fast. It actually accounts for a lot of the joys and pleasures of life and a lot of human genius. We are amazing at making clever decisions really quickly without even thinking about it. Happens all the time, but we are also in that mode, prone and prone to deep forces that have shaped our evolution over many years and that don’t really apply that well to the modern era. You know, we crave sugar and fat and as much of it as possible, and we devour it as soon as we can find it. That’s problematic. In a world of abundance, we find it really hard not to procrastinate. You know, there are so many distractions. And, you know, we’ve got this reasoning self, that reflective self that says, I really think I should be spending more time doing that. But this. Other thing is so alluring. So, so much of life is about trying to empower our effective selves over our instinctive selves. To me, that would be lesson one in every educational system, and it’s probably lessons two, three, four, five, six. Like it’s a it’s a lifelong task to figure out how to do this. Um, maybe religion used to play a role in helping people do it. Maybe parenting does play a role, but not in every family. I think we’ve forgotten how to do this.


Chris Anderson: [00:15:27] And I think when social media were built, they forgot just how powerful the instinctive side of us is and how easy it is to lead people to becoming and spending time doing what they, their reflective self, really isn’t proud of or doesn’t like, or doesn’t, you know, feels regretful of. But it’s a form of addiction. Every addiction is like this. You know, you have these powerful forces in us that we find it hard to resist. I think everyone has good inside them. And the amazing thing about generosity is that just a very few psychopaths, it is a deep instinct. Why deep inside you, when you see someone else suffering, you will feel something and you will want to help them in some way. We’re wired to connect to each other’s feelings. If someone is generous to you, you will feel an intense desire to respond. It’s who we are, and if we don’t, we become hated, freeloaders and cheaters. So it’s all in there. And what’s so urgent about the current moment is that we’re in danger of losing that part of us, and the nurturing and nourishment of that part of us, in favor of the nurturing and nourishing of the bad part of us that is turning us into people who hate and who despise, and who are angry and who are disgusted. And those feelings make it impossible for different groups to really connect, to achieve anything. And without that, we’re giving up humanity’s biggest superpower the ability for us to cooperate and build amazing things.


Jonathan Fields: [00:17:01] Yeah. So agree with that. You know, it’s a it’s a classic story of the good with the bad wolf. You know, like which one wins. It’s the one you feed. And you’re centering the notion that it’s not like one thing is instinctual and the other just takes really concerted effort over time. Like, because I do think and I think this is what you’re saying and I happen I would agree with this if it’s right that generosity is is as instinctual as the negative things that we feel, but we are so much less practiced at centering that in our lives that it doesn’t feel as much of our default state anymore. And like, we have to actually engage in the work of bringing it back to a place of just such a regular experience that it becomes more automatic in the way we move through the world. Does that make sense to you?


Chris Anderson: [00:17:44] 100%? It’s a muscle. It’s like anything that you do as a human, the more you do it, the more powerful that muscle gets. It both becomes easier to do, and you get to discover again and again the unexpected upside of being generous, which is that you, you, it brings happiness with it. This has been shown time and again, scientifically and in reported experience of people. You discover that you like being your better self, and you feel you feel a greater sense of meaning and purpose and happiness. And the more that you get reminded of that, the more it becomes natural to want to exercise that muscle. And every time you do, others respond and ripple effects happen. So you know when the cycle is turning the right way. It is truly a beautiful thing. And what’s got me so excited is that because we’re in a connected age, there are so many ways in which we can signal to each other and spark each other to respond in a delightful way. There are amazing stories out there of how this is happening, and the more people just pay attention to that and buy into that, then just maybe, just maybe, there’s a pathway to hope.


Jonathan Fields: [00:19:00] Yeah, completely on board with that. You know, and for those who are curious, there is actual there’s a significant body of research around how generosity affects us. You know, I’m sure many people are familiar with the work of Adam Grant, Sonja Lyubomirsky, who really like and they often describe it as, you know, in popular parlance, as the givers glow. We give because there’s something that wants to be of service or help others. And yet there is this measurable, sustained psychological and emotional benefit to us in the act of actually being generous. And researchers have even parsed what’s the best way to do it? Do you do it all at once? And one big thing do you spread it out in little sprinkles every day? And, you know, like, how does that change the effect? But what you’re describing also is another part of the phenomenon. And I’ve seen a little bit of the research on this, which is the sort of pro-social effect of witnessing generosity as well. So it’s not just about the person who’s giving and the beneficiary or. The fisheries. But there’s something that’s kind of magical that happens when people see this phenomenon that brings them into it as well.


Chris Anderson: [00:20:07] Jonathan Haidt talks about this moral elevation. You don’t even have to see it in real in the real world. You can just see it on video and it increases the chances that you will be kind. You know, I tell the story in the book briefly of like, okay, so a person pulls up to a traffic light, it’s raining, pouring with rain, notices a person by the side of the road, gets out of the car, gets soaked, gives that person his umbrella, goes back in the car and drives off. Kind of people have done this from time to time, no doubt as long as there have been traffic lights. But this particular act was, uh, 2022. It was picked up on video. That video was then seen by millions of people. And when you look at the comments on Reddit, for example, responding to this, it’s just clear that that moral uplift, that sense of elevation is there in spades. People were saying things like, I’m so inspired by this. Like, he really did that. Boy, I have got to pay attention to people around the side of the road. One person wrote, I’m now going to carry more umbrella. I’m going to carry several umbrellas inside my car. So in an age where one person’s act can change the mindset of a very large number of people, that feels like in principle that that could be incredibly hopeful.


Jonathan Fields: [00:21:24] Yeah. I mean you use the phrase ‘the Infinite village’. Is this what we’re talking about, or is there a more expansive understanding that you have of it?


Chris Anderson: [00:21:33] Yeah, the infinite village. So so we you know, we evolved in communities of about maybe 150 people or so. So they tell us now, the people we can be connected to is everyone. And so what are the rule changes there? I think the traditions of generosity have all been built around the assumptions that we’re in a small community and in the connected age. I think we have to pay specific attention and be willing to change our thinking about it a bit. I mean, one of the most obvious things is that precisely because it’s easier now to give to a huge number of people for actually zero cost, if you can give something online that’s knowledge or music or, you know, beautiful photography or art or a video software, things that we value, those things can be given away for free to huge numbers of people. Well, we should put more emphasis on that and encourage people to do that, even if their motivation to do it is sometimes slightly mixed, you know, because all those people get that thing. Maybe they hope for enhanced reputation, you know, across the world. Now, traditionally on generosity, if we think people are doing something for reputation reasons, we may discount it. It’s like we’re supposed to give anonymously and all the rest of it. I think we can’t do that in the connected age. I think we need to celebrate every reason for people to give more, because there is so much at stake here, whether someone chooses to give something or not, it’s not just three people who will benefit.


Chris Anderson: [00:23:11] It can be millions of people who who benefit. And so I think this idea of encouraging everyone almost to work out, I would say, their generosity strategy, what could you give away that might amaze you? I feel passionate about this because this was our experience at TEDx. We discovered that after we took the risk and it was a risk at the time of giving away our content. That is the start of everything good that ever happened to TEDx happened. People responded, you know, this stuff spread around the world and people wanted to help and translate us and all the rest of it, and it forced us almost to adopt this strategy of radical generosity. And so we start, you know, we gave away our brand so that people could do TEDx events around the world. We didn’t control. They controlled them. It was a risk. But it led to 3000 mostly beautiful events around the world happening and huge numbers of videos being recorded and so forth. So the rules are different now. An infinite village is different from just a village and we need to pay attention to that. What we hold on to and what we give away. Not not the same now. And it’s exciting if we embrace the potential of what this possibility of giving to so many people could, could imply.


Jonathan Fields: [00:24:29] Yeah, that makes so much sense. The way you describe the decision, TED, to say, hey, listen, we are creating really highly valuable content and experiences from some of the most incredible thinkers and feelers and doers and creators in the world. Let’s just give it away and see what happens. Now, granted, there is an event where people can come to you and they’re now actually thousands of smaller events like satellite, the TEDx, as you described. But the notion of what if we take this risk and we’re investing all of this energy in creating something and give it away and trust we were I was very fortunate to have Sir Ken Robinson on the show. And he, you know, we had a wonderful conversation. I know the world misses him dearly and for so many reasons, in so many ways. I don’t know if he still has the most viewed TED talk like on TED, but it was certainly one of them.


Chris Anderson: [00:25:20] I think he does. I think he does.


Jonathan Fields: [00:25:21] Yeah, and I’ve watched that myself countless times. And then to just sit and ask him questions and hear about his stories and his, you know, and it’s interesting because you describe the decision to make these experiences freely available for anyone. But then there’s the ripple effect of this, like what happens and you write about this actually, what happens when someone watches Sir Ken? Like what seeds did that then plant in thousands or millions of other peoples or teachers lives that then sort of like created this like ripple after ripple after ripple. So it’s not just the immediate experience. It’s like, what am I setting in motion that may I have no idea when this ends or how it ends, and I will never know anyone it touches, but you just know that it will.


Chris Anderson: [00:26:03] So this is the thing. We never really know what happens at the end of all those ripples. But when you when one comes back and you find out about it, it is such a joyful thing. And. Yes, sir Ken, you know, he gave that talk to 5 or 600 people at live at the time, and it’s still today, seen every day by several thousand people. Ten years ago, one of those people was this woman who I only met a couple of years  ago. Supriya Pur she was a college kid, wanted to be an accountant or her father wanted to be an accountant. And she saw Sir Ken’s talk in this little video wriggling its way across the internet changed her mindset so profoundly. She she wanted to do the same thing in India for people in India who didn’t have access to education. So she and her partner raised money, and they basically started off at their own version of TEDx for India. Didn’t ask permission. I don’t know if we’d have given it. I certainly now I’m so joyful about it. I’m delighted. You know, they have their own little red rug and so forth, but it is. It is amazing that this thing now reaches 50 million people plus a month. And I heard about she described to me some of the people and some of the ripple effects from that, that during the pandemic, someone hears one of her talks and learns that they can find a new way to make a living, which was by sharing knowledge in their village. And then a kid heard that talk and his life has been changed. And so you think, Sir Ken, if you were still with us, for you to know that 8000 miles away, there’s a country being materially impacted by that one talk that you gave that is just so incredible to me. And it could happen to anyone. We’re in an era where butterflies are flapping their wings and hurricanes are happening as a result every day, every day. So why not try to be one of those butterflies you describe?


Jonathan Fields: [00:27:51] Another really interesting example. The couple, I believe it was, who decided to give away substantial amounts of money anonymously to strangers online. And the ripple effect of that take me into that story a bit.


Chris Anderson: [00:28:04] Right. So that was a couple in the TED community. Um, they made a couple of million-dollar windfall investment, and they decided to give it away. But to do so in an interesting way that would lead to new social science. And so we helped working with the University of British Columbia. We helped design this sort of crazy social experiment that we called the Mystery Experiment. We invited people to apply for it, not knowing what they were signing up for, and basically 200 people ended up getting being offered $10,000, no strings attached, be wired into their PayPal account. Took some persuading to accept it, but when they did, the only rule was that they had to tell us what they spent it on and what they spent it on really blew people away. I mean, two-thirds of that money was spent generously gifts to all kinds of organizations, as well as gifts to family, friends, strangers. I mean, it was so beautiful to see, and I got to speak to some of the people after the experiment was over and say, what on earth happened to you? Why would you do this? And the typical answer that came back was that, look, I’m not sure I would have done this if I’d just won the lottery, but because of this couple’s, this anonymous couple’s generosity, I felt seen and I felt the need to pass that on and to let others feel seen, like I’d felt seen.


Chris Anderson: [00:29:20] And so, you know, there was one. There was one woman in the UK, there’s seven different countries, um, lots of different income levels. So a woman in the UK who got it and decided she was going to give away all 10,000 in 500-dollar chunks, and then the next day had a tax bill for more than that 10,000. But she stuck to her guns and she gave it away. And she said, I go to work and I feel joy at every step because I’m seeing another organization, or I walk past places where I’ve just been able to donate a small amount of money, and it meant something to them. So I don’t know. The New York Times published a piece on this saying, David Brooks saying people are more generous than we think. And I think it’s profound and it’s it’s because of that. So you put the two things together, right? Generosity is instinctive. The desire to respond to generosity is instinctive. The desire to be uplifted when you see someone else being generous is instinctive. Those three things together in an age where we’re connected like never before, that is what creates this incredible engine of possibility that we really could imagine. An era where acts of kindness spread like never before.


Jonathan Fields: [00:30:31] Yeah, just that notion that generosity begets generosity. And when you look at that at scale, it can be incredibly powerful as you’re describing the stories, I had this instant remembrance of being at an event that a friend of mine put on for a number of years, and the organization behind the event that that he had created was a nonprofit, and he knew that he had, you know, a certain amount of additional money that came in during that event. So as a final act to close out the event, when a thousand people walked out of the theater, they were each handed an envelope, and in each envelope was a $100 bill. It was like every dollar of the excess was given back. And the only request was, let us know what you do with it. There was no control. There was no. You have to spend it in this way. You can’t buy lattes for yourself. Let us know. And so much of it. Again, the people felt so good about like, okay, so this is how do I keep paying it forward? And that was like there were 1000 people who were seated, both emotionally, but also in a tiny little stake that they could have used for our own lives. But so many like you were describing, people wanted to really say, how can I make this feeling happen in other people, too?


Chris Anderson: [00:31:39] I love that that’s a great story.


Jonathan Fields: [00:31:41] And that impulse, I think we forget is a part of us until something reminds us, you know, and then we’re like, oh, right. This is part of what life can be about. You also talk about this phenomenon, though, which is this notion of am I giving right? You know, is it? I want to do it just right. I want to be perfect in the way that I’m doing it and how that can it can really be a bit of a stumbling block for generosity for us.


Chris Anderson: [00:32:06] First of all, it is right for us to apply our brains as well as our hearts to generosity, especially when it comes to giving away money. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of giving away money when you know you see some story on television of some tragedy, or a friend asks because there’s a specific need has come up and it’s kind of it’s random. And the truth is that there’s a orders of magnitude difference between organizations out there that are doing things effectively and wonderfully and really making change, and those that haven’t really found their way. And, and, and it’s it’s easily possible to give away money in a way that just creates dependency, etc.. So it is right to have a plan, to have a generosity plan for your money, and to say, how much am I willing to give away each year? Now? What am I going to spend it on and to think through it? One of the things that goes wrong, though, is that we can get so worked up into saying, am I sure I’m doing this right? That no money ever gets gets given? And so there’s this toxic question that I think a lot of people find themselves asking, which is, am I sure this is the best use of my philanthropy? Well, the answer to that question is always no, you will never be sure.


Chris Anderson: [00:33:22] And if you went through the day saying, am I sure? Because the very best thing I could do with my next five minutes, you would sit frozen as a statue and, uh, be a sad life. The actual question to ask is, is this a good use of of my money? I mean, in general, giving is the right thing to do. It’s because of our loss aversion, because it’s hard to do. Usually we don’t. Giving leads to other people having a chance to do something good in the world, and it probably makes us happier. So finding the right psychology to know, you know? Yes, think. But but don’t overthink. Get to the point where you can just be confident in, say, 2 or 3 organizations that you love. Get to know the other people who are supporting them. There’s joy in that as well, by the way. And then just be a regular giver and find ways of reminding yourself what the benefits are of that and the good that that money is doing. I think that’s, that’s that’s a good, good mantra.


Jonathan Fields: [00:34:24] Yeah. Was recently talking to somebody about personal finance, and she was sharing the research around how a very simple shift in the decision-making processes goes back to Danny Kahneman’s work on loss aversion. Right, is makes a profound difference in the way that we save, she said. If you automate the decision, so you’re no longer saying, how much of my paycheck will I allocate to savings? You just automate it. Like every paycheck, x percent is automatically deducted that you adapt really quickly to not having whatever that amount is available to you to spend, and then it automates the process of you saving money over a very long period of time. That has a tremendous benefit. And I wonder if what you’re describing also is subject to generosity. And I guess this is the notion between tithing or sadaqah and all these different traditions, you know, like, let’s choose like think about how you want it to be allocated, but then just make it a part of like take the thought process away from it, make an automatic thing.


Chris Anderson: [00:35:19] Yeah, exactly. We’re very bad at following through on our good intentions. And so we need these life hacks to achieve all sorts of things. And I think a really powerful one is a giving pledge. Certainly religions have believed in this. For Judaism and Christianity it’s tithing. It’s like, please give 10% of your money away to the church, to for the poor or whatever. And in Islam, it’s zakat you should give. If you’re wealthy or well off, you should give a 40th of your wealth every year. Now that’s 2.5% every year of your wealth, not your income. What I say is, if you’re not religious, I’m not religious at this point, particularly if you’re not religious. Do we want our ethical values to be lower or higher, or at least as good as those of religions? And I think most people want their ethical standards to be as high. And so what I invite people to consider is to pledge the higher of 10% of income, or 2.5%, because in different circumstances, those pledges have different forces. For most people, 10% of income is the is the challenging pledge to make. But for the very wealthy, that’s not a challenging pledge at all. Many of them don’t even have much income at all. They borrow against their wealth or whatever. They, um, 2.5% of their net worth annually is a huge commitment. Many I’ve seen research that many billionaires currently, even the ones that I think want. To be givers are giving less than half a percent of their net worth annually. And so I think the the force of the pledge is to kind of do your sort of automation every year. You’re going to sit down with your family and reaffirm that, you know, these this is the kind of areas where we want to give to.


Chris Anderson: [00:37:11] And here are the organizations that we found to be effective and to just do that. And then once you’ve done it, it becomes part of your lifestyle. And I think that there is an even deeper joy. You know, the obvious joy from giving comes, you know, you give the money and you see someone smile or cry and they’re so happy. That is lovely. But there’s there’s also a deep satisfaction by saying, I’m proud of being a thoughtful person and of of harnessing my generosity, my generosity instincts in, in a way that I think is defendable and wise. And, you know, I think, again, your reflective self can be your friend here and can tell you this, this was this was good. So, look, not everyone is in a position where they can do a pledge that high. But I think as a life goal, I think so many things would change if as a society, we just saw this as one of the sort of sensible moral rules that people who could, should, should sign up to sign up, you know, pledge something annually each year, compared, for example, with a lifelong pledge like the Giving Pledge, which is a pledge by the very rich to give away most of their wealth before they die. That’s beautiful. But it’s on the never, never. And to actually get around to it, because giving is hard. So many of them never actually get around to the giving part, and they’re going to end up with a will that gives away half the money, and then the other half will make their children miserable. It’s it’s hard.


Jonathan Fields: [00:38:40] I also like the fact that you’ve been we’ve been talking about like, well, how should we think about money and generosity? But you also and you list this out in the book a number of different ways. Let’s say, for whatever reason, you feel like you’re not in a circumstance where that’s available to you right now and you basically invite people to say, but there are other ways I am not excluded from this experience 100%. And one of the things that you explore is, and, you know, you list out six different things. One is attention, which I think is so beautiful because I often talk about I use the phrase exquisite attention. It’s this ability to almost cast a spell of attentiveness where the people who are encapsulated in it feel like they’ve transcended the moment the world around them vanishes away. And there’s just something exquisite. There’s something deeply connected about it, where you feel seen in a way that rarely happens. And I feel like we discount things like this so often, the value of experiences like that. But then when you actually experience it, you’re like, this actually happens so infrequently in day to day life now that when it does, you’re just captivated by it. And it really is a generosity-driven experience.


Chris Anderson: [00:39:51] 100% I mean, I think actually all generosity starts there with that gift. It’s it’s you can call it a generosity mindset. I mean, somehow people need to find their way into a place where they can actually deliberately choose to focus their attention on something outside themselves or someone outside themselves. Usually we can talk about the role that gratitude plays in getting someone to that point, because it’s hard, you know, like we had all lead sort of busy, stressful lives, and our default mode is just to sleepwalk through the day almost, and just from one mini-crisis to another, or one calendar obligation to another, to take time out of that and actually look at another human being and try and say, you know, okay, they have a story and maybe they have a need. And so, so many of the most amazing ripple effects of generosity just start with someone willing to let someone else feel seen. And the beautiful thing about it is that often they themselves then also feel seen in a new way. I, you know, I, a woman I know who works with us at events.


Chris Anderson: [00:40:58] I gave her the book and she she told me the story of just it was the smallest story. But, you know, she was on the subway and someone came in who she would have been shied away from normally, didn’t necessarily look super well and so forth. But she plucked up courage and just said, how are you and what’s your name? And they started a conversation. And, you know, she ended up giving him $10 and it was very meaningful to him being seen. Part was meaningful and it was meaningful to her. She felt differently about herself, I think from that. And whether it’s that or whether it’s just being willing to take out time and pay attention to, you know, I know that this is an issue I’m worried about in the world. I’m going to dig into it. I’m going to look at it, you know, I’m going to pay attention to it, and I’m going to start that that curiosity journey and see where that takes me. That in itself is an act of generosity.


Jonathan Fields: [00:41:52] Yeah, that makes so much sense. One of the other modes of of non-monetary giving you talk about is also just sharing knowledge, sharing your wisdom. And we see this happen so organically I think in multigenerational families. But there are so many opportunities that I think we miss around us, you know. And we do see it institutionalized in certain fields. I mean, so often in so many different small towns around the country, there are these score organizations where, you know, like senior mentors, generally like entrepreneurs who’ve often retired, but they just kind of want to, like, I know a lot. I learned a lot. I got kicked around a lot. I really want to help young people with ideas in their heads who want to start something, and they just offer their services freely just to share that. And I wonder if there are more opportunities to try and sort of like codify this or institutionalize or create structure around this, because I do feel like there are so many people who would love to share knowledge, but they don’t see a really easy path to being able to actually step into that mode. What’s your take on that?


Chris Anderson: [00:42:54] I mean, it’s such an important gift. You know, one of the most beautiful things about generosity in general is its asymmetry. It’s the fact that the cost to the giver may be far less than the benefit to the receiver. This is what makes it possible. And knowledge is is a prime example of this, of, you know, it might take you ten minutes to explain something to someone and it might transform their day or even their life. So how do we have more of that? Well, I mean, there are obviously I mean, YouTube is actually when you view it one way, is this incredible new education engine for the world. Like, you can get free knowledge on YouTube on pretty much any topic there is. And I find that astonishing. And some people are putting up videos because they hope to make some ad revenue. Others are just doing it because they want to share their knowledge. And either way, it’s you know, I think it’s a, it’s a it’s a really great thing. Could we do more? I mean, I probably someone could set up some knowledge exchange thing, you know, what do you know, what do you need to know? Try and make a market in connecting people one on one because their types of knowledge that don’t. It’s not just about recording a video and watching it. It’s it’s a conversation. And what’s so interesting about so many of those conversations is that is, again, that both people benefit in different ways. You know, the connections between old and young people are often, yeah, the young person learns knowledge, experience, you know, of life. And the older person eases their loneliness, perchance. There’s a human connection there, you know, both are giving a gift. Both come away from it feeling richer about being alive.


Jonathan Fields: [00:44:34] You know, we’ve been talking about some modes of giving, but I do want to circle back around to the infectious part of this conversation, because I think that’s that’s where the the game is really changing now. Like, there are all sorts of different ways that we can step into this space of generosity, you know? And now with this infinite, with this global village, we can we can we have access to so many more people and to the ripple effect. We talked about one of the ways to help these experiences of generosity or stories of generosity to spread into that global community earlier, and you were sharing how the experience of emotion is one of the things that really allows these moments, these stories, to express. Talk to me a bit more about how we effectively help nudge generosity to go more viral, so that it becomes a more regular experience in people’s lives.


Chris Anderson: [00:45:26] Yeah. I mean, I think in addition to just figuring out how to evoke authentic emotion, two other very big things. One is just creativity. The more insane, the better. There’s so much noise out there, people who can do something in a way that generates wow, I did not see that coming. Breakthrough. And they get attention. I mean, to take a fairly well-known example, that whole ice bucket challenge thing that happened, I mean, that was a very creative idea where you wanted to raise money for ALS. They challenged people to dump a bucket of water over themselves and then to name two other people who would have to go through the same thing. And so there was sort of virality built into this, but in a very clever and creative way, and just the fun of it and the craziness of it. This thing spread like crazy. The other one, I think, is courage. People respond to courage. I tell the story in the book about Darrell Davis, African American musician who had the courage to reach out to a local member of the Ku Klux Klan and have a meeting with them and listen to them. An intense meeting, as it turned out, amazingly, they somehow formed a relationship. They kept seeing each other. Darrell went to KKK rallies. Eventually his friend left the KKK and many others did as well. And this story became a news story that spread around the world.


Chris Anderson: [00:46:51] The journalist in me is certain that the main reason why CNN said wow is because of his courage. It’s like, who would do that? That is a very, very brave thing that he did. And so, you know, it sparks attention. And as a result of his courage, millions of people around the world got to hear about a form of, I would say, generosity that is so important for the moment we’re in, which is the willingness to bridge, you know, to listen to your enemies with respect and to try to understand where they’re coming from, and to understand whether there’s any common ground that you can find. The amazing thing is, if you do that, you probably will. In that case, courage lit a fire. So you combine those things together. And I just think in general, too many of us who are trying to do good in the world fall into this mode of sort of earnest, you know, well-meaning, come on, let’s do this. This is going to be good. And, um, it doesn’t quite cut through. I think it’s it’s lovely and it’s good, but if we could figure out how to be bolder, more audacious, more creative, that is what it may take to break through and really have something wild and amazing ripple out and take take off.


Jonathan Fields: [00:47:59] You know, it’s interesting as you’re describing this, I’m nodding along and there’s a, there’s a sub storyline that’s starting to emerge with me, which is that we live in a world now where one person’s perception of what is profoundly generous may be another person’s perception of what is profoundly offensive or harmful. And I wonder if people resist what they think is an obvious act of generosity, whether it’s sharing knowledge or sharing wisdom or whatever it may be out of this fear of. But what if I step out into this global village where everything’s interconnected? I’m going to be everything I offer I put out there will be seen and people can respond to it. And what if my intention of generosity lands in the lap of somebody else who experiences that as harm?


Chris Anderson: [00:48:48] I mean, it’s a huge, huge, huge issue and it does take courage to to do it. You will get if you’re on any issue that has been politicized and many of them have, um, you’re in danger of getting your head blown off, possibly by people on both sides. The thing is that most people actually aren’t on those extremes, and I think there is a way of fighting for a sort of a beautiful, more reasonable, more thoughtful. I won’t necessarily middle ground, but non-extreme ground where there’s where actually lots of different people can find some sort of alignment. It’s interesting. I had an experience just two days ago where we’d had this amazing, good fortune of having. In our home. Um, one of the developers of of, um, cultured meat, cultured chicken in this case. So this is chicken grown not from a factory farm, but from just a little droplet of muscle cells. And, you know, right now it’s a very expensive process. And there’s ick factor for it for a lot of people until you actually see it. And I saw it fried in our kitchen and, and then sliced up and tasted it. It was absolutely delicious. And our guests thought it was delicious. And it was kind of like how chicken is supposed to be. So I posted a picture of this online and I couldn’t believe what what happened. I mean, there was just this sort of flood of interest in it.


Chris Anderson: [00:50:12] I think it had like more than a million views in about two days, and a thousand people reposted it and comments. Yeah, absolutely. Very, very divided for some people. This is so exciting. I can’t wait for this to come. I want a future where my meat doesn’t come at the expense of massive animal cruelty. And then there’s a whole group who are saying, oh, this is Frankenfood. You know, you’re part of this global conspiracy to take away our future and to take away what is natural and God-given and and so forth. And so it’s really hard to bridge this stuff. And yet you could find in the middle there people who are willing to buy the say, you know, I never thought I’d be interested in this kind of meat, but looking at this, it’s actually kind of I’m open to it. And you could see that there is there is an addressable group in there. And so if you can get yourself into the position where you just you don’t mind, you expect, you know, savage comments from some people, that’s just the way it is. You have to figure out how to not be owned by those. Then do it. Go, go. You know, try and be the bridge here because we need those voices so badly at the moment.


Jonathan Fields: [00:51:22] Speaking about being the bridge as we start to come towards the close of our conversation, a lot of people are probably going to be listening to this and say, okay, like I there are ideas popping into my head. There are things that I didn’t really think about before. And, you know, if I have financial means to give great and that now I have some ideas. If I if I don’t now I have some other ideas. And I understand that, that maybe there’s a reason to do this in a more publicly observable way. And also this last part of the conversation, that there’s also some risk to doing this. I’m sure you’ve had this conversation with so many, both within your organization, with colleagues and friends, but you know, when when somebody is listening and they sort of like at this point where there’s like, okay, so I want to take the first step in, but I want to do it in a way where I don’t feel like I’m completely confused, I’m paralyzed, I’m doing it wrong, or I’m going to recoil because there’s going to be such a negative effect or the risk of that, that it’s going to make me never want to do it again. Do you have a sense for sort of like, what a what an inclusive and easy and accessible first step is when somebody is thinking about this.


Chris Anderson: [00:52:30] I’ll say two things. One is don’t do it alone. Do invite a group around. Have a have a dinner. Hospitality is, first of all, one of the most beautiful forms of generosity there is. And it’s very deep and it’s in a very human culture. And so it’s beautiful just in itself. It will build friendship. But dream as a group about you might do, say in your community, like is there are you aware of someone who’s doing toiling away under the radar and deserves support, or is there some issue that you could elevate together or whatever, just have have that single conversation dinner and see if anything emerges and then it’s you can gain much more confidence by by doing something as a group. And then the second thing I’d say is that we, we actually built a tool to help people brainstorm and help people figure this stuff out at our site, Infectious generosity. Org. There’s an AI called Tig, the Infectious Generosity Guru. But you can you can go and connect with Tig and brainstorm. It’ll Tig will ask you what your passions are and what your skills are and and then just brainstorm simple acts of generosity. It could be anything from a little event you do with your kids for for the neighborhood, or a piece of research or like anything and some, some of the plans that that you we’ve seen Tig come up with in brainstorming partnership have been absolutely amazing and thrilling. Um, so I think that’s, that’s it’s if nothing else, it’s fun to try.


Jonathan Fields: [00:53:53] I love that and a great example of a use of AI for good. Yes.


Chris Anderson: [00:53:58] We hope so.


Jonathan Fields: [00:53:59] Fantastic. Well, um, it feels like a good place for us to come full circle, Chris. So when this container of Good Life Project, if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?


Chris Anderson: [00:54:09] Just to look beyond yourself. It’s so weird that that is how we’re wired. We don’t know. No one actually leads a good life solo. I don’t think. Our good life is led by reaching out to others, seeing how we can make their life better. And somehow the universe arranges it. That that makes our own life better. There is exploitation that can happen. It doesn’t happen very often. There’s things you can be wise to, but basically look to the needs of others and be amazed at what happens next.


Jonathan Fields: [00:54:46] Mhm. Thank you.


Jonathan Fields: [00:54:49] Hey, before you leave, if you love this episode Safe bet, you’ll also love the conversation we had with Dacher Keltner about the power of awe. You’ll find a link to Dacher’s episode in the show. Notes. This episode of Good Life Project. was produced by executive producers Lindsey Fox and me, Jonathan Fields. Editing help By Alejandro Ramirez. Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music and special thanks to Shelley Adelle for her research on this episode. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project. in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable, and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor, a seven-second favor, and share it? Maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person? Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action, that’s how we all come alive together. Until next time. I’m Jonathan Fields signing off for Good Life Project.

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