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An Interview with Sharon Lipinski

1. Your new book is 365 Ways to Live Generously. What inspired you to write the book?

365 Ways to Live Generously is the result of my own personal quest to live my best life. Several years ago, I was a mortgage broker working 60 hours or more a week in a high-pressure job I hated. I had zero work-life balance, because it was all work. I didn't exercise. I never cooked. If it didn't come from take out or from a box, I didn't eat.

But I saw that some people seemed to have it easier than I did in the sense that they were excelling at work and in their personal life. The secret was that they had better habits than I did. They were doing more of the right things unconsciously and automatically. I knew that if they could do it, I could do it too.

For years now, I've been trying to figure out which habits I should create, so I can live my best life. I wanted to have more time and energy. I wanted to feel good about my health and love my body. I wanted to have deep, meaningful relationships. I wanted to have a big, positive impact on myself, my community, and the world.

Today, I am happily married. Today, I am physically healthy with a strong exercise habit. I wake up every morning with the physical energy to handle whatever life throws at me and the mental clarity to focus on what's most important to me. Today, I cook. That blows me away, and sometimes I still shake my head as I put dinner on the table and think, "Look at that. I can cook."

And you can do it, too. This story doesn't stop with me. Whatever your best life looks like to you, you can achieve it by gently, easily, and consistently practicing the right behaviors until they become a habit.

2. You are also the founder of Change Gangs. What type of organization is it, and what led you to create it?

Change Gangs is my labor of love! A Change Gang is a virtual giving circle, and we are a donation team. We pool our small donations ($25/month) with the donations of other people who care who also care about the same cause: helping pets, ending poverty, or supporting our veterans. So, instead of donating $25 alone, we're donating thousands of dollars together. But it gets better than that. Members suggest charities for us to consider, our donation committee researches those charities, and then members vote on which charity they think is going to make the biggest difference. As a result, we know that we're giving to the right charity, that our donation is going to be used in the right way, and that it will make a big difference!

I founded it after I invited an elderly man I knew who was going to spend Thanksgiving alone to spend Thanksgiving dinner with me at a Chinese restaurant. During dinner, we shared plates of sesame chicken and beef with broccoli while he talked about his kids. When I looked across the table, I didn't see a stranger. I saw a father who was proud of his kids. I saw a man who regretted his past. I saw a human being who rarely had an opportunity to talk with someone who cared about him and what was important to him. I realized that taking him out to dinner was such a little thing for me. But it was a big deal for him. That was the moment that I finally got it: it really is the small, everyday acts of generosity that make life worth living.

This simple dinner with a stranger caused me to look back on my life. I had to admit that I wasn't a very generous person. But I was a good person. I was honest, kind, and hard working, so what was going on? A lot of things, really. I so busy that I didn't always have time to notice an opportunity to give, let alone do something about it. I was afraid I was going to do it wrong, look stupid, or be taken advantage of.

I founded Change Gangs: Virtual Giving Circles to make donating easy, affordable, and powerful. Fundamentally, Change Gangs helps people make a habit of philanthropy.

3. How can generous acts benefit both others and ourselves?

When people think about generosity, they often think it means giving to other people. And yes, being generous is about tipping over your cup to give to others, but generosity also means giving to yourself. It means filling up your own cup so that you have even more to give.

Generosity that doesn't include yourself is always incomplete. You are the foundation from which you give to others, so that foundation needs to be strong and solid. Otherwise, people end up burned out, physically drained, and angry and resentful. When your cup is full, you can show up at home and at work with the physical energy and mental resources you need to reach your personal and professional goals.

While taking care of yourself is critical, so is taking care of others. One of your deepest human needs is to make a contribution. At the end of your life, you're going to look back and ask, "Did my life matter?" And you can answer that question with a resounding "Yes!" when you have deep relationships with family and friends and when you've improved the lives of the people in your community and in the world. When your cup is full because you've given to yourself what you need, you actually have more to give to others.

When you're giving to yourself what you need to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy; when you're giving to meet the immediate physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of others; when you're working to solve problems at their roots so that fewer people will suffer in the future; when you're doing it freely and frequently, that's Complete Generosity.

4. Is the book meant to be read in order, a page a day? Or can you skip around?

This book is designed to help you create new healthy habits and break old bad habits and is based on the latest scientific research on how to do it. The 7 habits are Physical Health, Mindfulness, Relationships, Connecting with Yourself, Gratitude, Simplicity, and Philanthropy.

Each day focuses on one of the 7 Generosity Habits and offers a suggested action you can take to practice that habit. Each habit appears once every week. The year begins with small actions and builds in length and broadens in scope as the year progresses. If you start at the beginning and read in order, you'll practice each habit 52 times for a total of 365 generous acts!

If you want to focus on a specific habit, you can find an index at the back of the book for each day organized by habit. So, if you really want to focus on your physical health or your relationships, you can read just the entries that apply to that habit.

5. What do you hope readers will take away from 365 Ways to Live Generously?

I hope that readers will take away from the book three experiences. First, I hope they will experience that action creates clarity. If they want to implement a new behavior in their personal or professional life, they must learn how it works for them. They only gain that clarity through concerted, consistent action.

Second, I hope they experience that action creates identity. They don't have to believe they can do it. When they've done their new behavior long enough, the brain eventually catches up and has to admit that this is now part of who they are. They are now a person who exercises or meditates or feels optimistic about the future or (insert any other desired behavior here).

Third, I hope they experience that generous living is joyful living. Generosity is not a thought experiment. It does not exist until a generous act takes place. Therefore, to be generous, you must act generously, and the more often you act generously, the more generous you are! And the more generous you are to yourselves and to others, the fuller your life will be.

About Sharon Lipinski

Sharon Lipinski (Loveland, CO) is the founder of the non-profit Change Gangs: Virtual Giving Circles, which helps people make small donations that make a big impact by pooling their small donations with the donations of ...

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