"Giving is the most basic way we have of showing our concern for others. We all know the cliché about it being better to give than to receive — but why do we find it so hard to give?

"Fear that we won't have enough for ourselves if we give too much away may be part of the answer, but only a small part. This is not so much an issue about our level of affluence as it is about our state of mind. My wife has a far more generous nature than I do — the difference being that she notices people in need and is more spontaneous in her response than I am. Not so long ago we went out shopping. As we walked past a supermarket, I was so deep in my own thoughts I didn't even see the elderly man struggling to lift his cart onto the pavement until Janmarie began helping him. There wasn't any lack of willingness to help on my part — I just didn't notice the need.

"As busy people with demanding lives, it's easy to be so preoccupied with our own concerns that the difficulties of others pass us by. Once again mindfulness is emphasized as a foundation practice.

"Even when we are aware of the needs of others, we may still hold back, perhaps because we're simply not in the habit of giving. Buddhism is very pragmatic in its approach to generosity, suggesting that we start small and progress from there. A woman who'd been suffering from depression for months said her recovery began one day when she was at a food store. The check-out assistant made some envious comment about a bag of loose chocolates she'd just bought — so she gave her a couple, then and there. The assistant's reaction to this spontaneous gift gave her such a rush of good feeling that she walked about in a glow for the rest of the day. For the first time in months she felt good about herself.

"There is some good, and some bad, in all of us. What we discover when we practice generosity, even on a small scale, is that it strengthens the positive side of our nature, and reinforces the likelihood of our acting altruistically again. It's in this altruism that our true fulfillment lies."