David Strittmatter

Give without expecting something in return

When you can give without expecting anything in return, you have mastered the art of living. – Jon Mead


  • You cannot control whether a person will return the favor. But when you expect, you give them control over your well-being.
  • The higher your expectations, the higher the possibility of great disappointment
  • When you don’t expect anything, even a little positive emotion can make you happy

Practical advice:

  • Draw a line between the things you can give unlimitedly and the things you cannot
  • Make it a habit to give freely
  • Ask yourself every week who deserves a big thank you

Dear friend,

When you do someone a favor, do you expect something in return? Or do you give freely, without even thinking about it?

In my early days as a teenager, I only did/gave something when I knew that I’ll receive something in return: For example, I only helped one of my siblings when s/he helped me, too, and I only gave someone my homework so that s/he can copy it when this person could help me someday as well.

A few years ago, I read the book “Never Eat Alone”, in which the author Keith Ferrazzi states that you should never keep score and elaborates the reasoning behind this notion. Since then, I’ve shifted from a quid-pro-quo-mindset to this abundance/never-expect-return-mindset.

In today’s article, I want to talk about why it’s better to give without expecting something in return, what you should give and when you shouldn’t give, as well as how you can change your quid pro quo mindset.

Why having no expectations is better

First, when you give without keeping score, you’ll have more peace of mind. It’s a quite simple equation explaining why that is the case: no expectations = no disappointment.

Once you expect something in return, there’s always the possibility that the other person will let you down. The higher your expectations, the higher the possibility of great disappointment. People who always expect something in return when they give often experience disappointment and become bitter and resentful. That can be very damaging to them.

Particularly, that’s the case when you give a lot and don’t get anything in return, for instance, you planned and threw a surprise party for a friend, you invested a lot of time into this endeavor, and your friend would never really give you something similar back.

Having no expectations of others frees your mind. You can give as much as you want and you’ll never be frustrated because another person didn’t reciprocate.

You just cannot control whether a person will return the favor. But when you expect, you give them control over your well-being.

Second, it’s a great pleasure to give freely. Having no expectations implies that you’ll always feel a sense of pleasure and joy when another person returns your favor. When you don’t expect anything, even a little positive emotion can make you happy. We love seeing people’s reactions and emotions; emotions and feelings are what makes life so beautiful.

Third, not keeping score is a much easier way of living: Once you stop expecting something in return, you don’t have to contemplate whom you want to give and whom not. From the moment you start giving freely, you can solely focus on yourself and the intrinsic motivation to give. Do you have the time to give? Do you have the money to give? Do you think it’s adequate to give? You don’t have to think about the “potential return” anymore. For me, as a very rational person, that has saved a lot of precious time.

When you should give and when not

If you start giving freely, you might give more than you actually can or should. Adopting an abundance mindset, though, doesn’t mean that you need to give everything you have. Once you switch the focus on “expected return” to yourself, your resources, and your capacity, you can decide how much and what you want to give.

I draw a line between the things I can give unlimitedly and the things I cannot or don’t want

to always give.

Things that are abundant to me and I want to give as much as I can are emotions, advice, connecting people, kindness, smiling, being a good model, appreciation, fun, and constructive feedback.

What I provide limitedly are attention (time) and money. For instance, my time, my goals, and my purpose of life always have top priority in my decisions. I don’t give someone attention when I need to concentrate on a task that is important to my goals; I strictly manage my time. Additionally, I don’t give money to anyone for no reason (donations, treating others to something, etc.).

I love giving time and money to others, but I need to manage these scarce resources with a high degree of appreciation of their value. There’s nothing more precious than time; no one can obtain more time and everyone has about the same amount. Thus, I spend it wisely.

Money, though, isn’t that precious, but I treat it cautiously as well since it’s a vehicle to make this world an even better place. I would rather invest 200€ a month in a project to advance education in developing countries than going out for dinner every night.

However, those are my priorities and I drew my very own line between these things. You need to find your own limits.

From quid pro quo to abundance

When you want to make the switch, you should first ask yourself what you want to and can give limitlessly. Write down these things, make a list out of it. This list is dynamic and should be adapted from time to time. Your goal should be to give these things as much as you can, every day, 24/7.

In addition, you should contemplate things you cannot give unboundedly. Most often, this process comes down to things like money, time, attention, or support. These limited resources you should only give if you have the necessary capacity and if they don’t conflict with your life goals. For instance, you should do someone a favor and help him to move out of his apartment even though you have to finish a crucial project. However, even if you think about the process of giving and evaluate whether you help or give someone, you should still give without expectations. Either you have no expectations at all, or you need to make clear that you only help out if the other person helps you with something else.

Now, after you found out what you can give to which degree, it’s time to actually give. First and foremost, you should focus on emotions not materialistic things. Be kind, smile, appreciate, be grateful, acknowledge, etc. as much and often as you can.

Make it a habit to give freely. I ask myself every week (as part of my weekly reflection routine) whom I can help next week and whom I need to say thank you.

Moreover, I strive to be a good role model. Thus, I regularly ask myself how I would act if my future children observe me: Would I help this person in this particular situation? Why would I not do it? Did I behave in an exemplary manner in this situation?

These hacks help me to practice giving and make my life and the lives of others a little better.

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