Why Generosity is a Psychoexemplary


What we need more of: generosity.




In his commencement speech at Brandeis, and as noted in our recent column on statesmanship, the filmmaker Ken Burns emphasized that not just generosity, but generosity squared, was needed for leadership. From a mental health standpoint, it is difficult to argue against a leader who embraces generosity for all served.

Generosity can be defined as being giving to others, perhaps more than is practically necessary. The paradox is that acting to benefit others increases the givers’ well-being at the same time. Its physical and mental benefits are multiple. Moreover, it often ripples out in a string of generality.

Studies of infants and young children indicate that generosity has its basis in our human nature, although it can be supported or inhibited by nurture. Generosity of parents to their children, along with the avoidance of too much parental narcissistic displacement of their psychological needs onto their children, is essential for the individualized development of the child. Selfishness and fear of loss often block generosity. Some individuals have trouble accepting others’ generosity.

While psychiatry can be viewed as just a job, when it is also inspired by generosity, it is much more—a calling and moral imperative. When it is felt to just be a job, frustration usually ensures because it is such a challenging field in our grappling with the depths of human nature and our own countertransference potential intrusions.

We are now beginning to learn the accompanying brain changes with generosity.1 The brain’s ventral striatum is linked to altruism, and the experience of receiving generosity decreases brain activity in the amygdala, where fight-or-flight responses emerge and can become overreactive with undue trauma.

A certain amount of above average narcissism seems necessary to want to become a leader, so that narcissism and generosity can become intertwined. The challenge in politics or parenting is to be a leader for all, not just for one’s political party or for authoritative control, for that differentiation often produces envy and opposition over time. In the polarizing time in our country and the world, can we find the unifying leaders that benefit all?

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.


1. Inagaki T, Ross L. Neural correlates of giving social support: differences between giving targeted versus untargeted support. Psychosom Med. 2018;80(8):724-732.

Recent Videos
Dune Part 2
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.