I wrote an article for Wired, about some of the fastest growing jobs and how to prepare for them in college. Part of this Education 2.0 package was an article by Natali Del Conte about which social networking tools students should use.

In general I think college kids should prepare for the work world by learning to make friends with a wide range of people on campus and lay off the books. But maybe that’s because I found that the time I was getting straight A’s in college was the time I was learning the least.

Ode magazine has a great little article this month about the importance of generosity. A study that has been following people since the 1920s reveals that your ability to give to others is a big indicator of how happy your life will be. (Paul Wink of Wellesley College, oversees the study today, and he wrote a book about it, In the Course of a Lifetime.)

One of the most interesting findings is that teens who scored high on generosity were healthier and happier half a century later. So the best advice about what to do in college might be to develop a strong ability to give.

Like all positive traits in this world, we think we have more of it than we do. (A great example of this phenomenon: Business Week reports that 90% of young workers think their performance is in the top 10% of all workers.)

These are five traits that people who are givers usually exhibit:

1. A sense that you can make a difference in the world

2. Empathy that enables you to truly feel the suffering of others

3. Belief that you are someone who can get things done

4. Spiritual faith in the world – -either traditional religion or an eclectic altruism

5. A focus on doing good that endures beyond your lifetime

Even if you don’t have these traits, the good news is that you can just start giving, and you might get these traits as you go. Try doing five acts of altruistic giving in one day – it’ll shift your outlook, according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at University of California at Riverside,

So maybe the best thing college kids can do for themselves is go to class less and help people more. And this is probably true for those of us going to work each day, as well. After all, when it comes to crafting a life, spending time on what really matters is half the battle.

Enter your name and email address below. No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.

30 replies
  1. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    i think you wrote “generativity” instead of “generosity”

    * * * * * *
    Your comment actually sent me back to our recycling bin to dig out my copy of Ode magazine. In fact, Wink uses the term gererativity. But I looked a bunch of definitions of the word, and it seems that he is either misusing the term or revinventing it for himself (such a fine line, isn’t it?)

    So, I need to not get so wrapped up in the reseach and read the words before I report them, huh? I changed the word to generosity in the post.

    Thanks, Kathryn.


  2. Matt Winn
    Matt Winn says:


    Just to play devil’s advocate, might it be that there is some causal relationship between giving and happiness but that the cited study’s conclusion that givers tend to be happier and healthier is more an indication that givers tend to have other needs met which are strong happiness/health drivers? Your post brought to mind Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – “Maslow’s theory contended that as humans meet ‘basic needs’, they seek to satisfy successively ‘higher needs’ that occupy a set hierarchy,” (Wikipedia) with respect for others nearing the top of that need set. In other words, givers are likely to have many of their own needs (ie. happiness drivers) already met.

    On the other hand, I do believe giving engenders strong self-worth which feeds back into one’s health, capacity to love, etc. Interestingly, I believe Maslow would side with you on relationship building eclipsing studies in order of importance.

    Enjoy following your work, as always.


    * * * * * *

    Yep. You make a good point, Matt.

    A lot of people ask me a lot of career questions, and it almost always comes back to figuring out how to know yourself better so you can take care of yourself better. And in this respect, it’s just what you’re saying — that most benefits flow from having your core needs taken care of


  3. Joe Grossberg
    Joe Grossberg says:

    You mean “Education 2.0”, right? If so, I say: spelling. ;) Love the column anyway.

    In any case, the two biggest things I learned in college that I’ve used since are:

    * my improved writing ability, mostly from my non-academic activities such as the school paper and various internships.
    * the HTML I taught myself while fooling around on the web

    Heck, the job I do — web software engineer — scarcely existed when I was in school, and was certainly not part of any academic curriculum. And the Computer Science they taught was notoriously academic instead of practical (e.g. focused on artificial intelligence theory, not the lack of intelligence among pointy-haired bosses).

    I agree that the out-of-class learning is what’s most important in a college eduation.

    * * * * * * *
    Thanks for the comment, Joe. And I can’t believe I misspelled education.


  4. Victoria
    Victoria says:

    I have mixed feelings about the purpose of a college education these days. I think a lot of American students view it as “thirteenth grade” and as the only viable post-high school option and I don’t think that’s to anyone’s benefit — not theirs (whether they’re ultimately going to end up being self-employed or in the corporate world), not the academic community, and not their future employers.

    Personally I majored in something that I loved but that’s completely impractical (comparative literature), spent most of my time in school focusing on my own writing projects and my paid editing and writing work. It wasn’t a terrible experience by any means, but I would’ve been better off waiting a year or two. (I was 16 when I started college and accepted a music scholarship to start, mostly because I felt like I had to go to college right after high school.) I took an admin job right out of college to save up money to start my freelance career, and it’s an experience that I’m glad I had, but now that I’m looking at grad school (in immunology) I wish I’d stuck it out and finished my biochem double major. I think you’re right in your article, Penelope, that you’re likely to change your mind numerous times throughout your life, but when you’re making decisions that stick as a teenager it’s a bit of a pain.

    What I intend to tell my daughter as she grows up: 1.) We’ll match whatever you save while you’re in high school, and that’s the money you’re getting from us for college (and if you decide you’re not going to college, you can use it for business capital or for a down payment on a house); and 2.) Go to college either when you’re ready and willing to spend four or five years investigating some kind of interesting intellectual problem, or when you’re pretty sure you want to do something with your life that you think a degree would be helpful in doing. For a fair chunk of kids coming out of high school, that’s not the year right after graduation. A year or three doing AmeriCorps, or traveling, or working, or trying to start a business, or building houses with Habitat for Humanity, would be a much better idea.

  5. Thom Singer
    Thom Singer says:


    You are right that college is more than just the books and grades (although, I will admit that I look back and wish I had done better with the school work, so finding a balance is important!).

    The same is true in the business world. Many people think it is all about just doing good work. But if you are great at your job and you are an asshole, then it holds you back from climbing to the top. It is not a contest between putting others first (being a giver) and being self driven (being a taker)…you have to have both to achieve the success you desire.

    The trick is knowing when to behave. Know what you want (have clear goals) but always make sure you act in a way that helps others win, too. The combo will lead to the success that we all desire.


  6. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Such a great post.

    You listed the things I say to myself after my retreat home from another disappointing day at the job I (sort of) went to school for but now realize it’s completely the wrong fit…

    My internal conversation usually goes like this:

    The Dreamer version of me: “What kind of job is out there for someone who doesn’t believe in chasing the dollar, for someone who wants to do something that extends beyond their lifetime, for someone who sees the needs of other people and wants to meet them AND for someone who is too far in debt to go back to school for another degree? Can’t I just get a job for being a person who cares?”

    The pessimistic me: “All of the things I want to do are great, but nobody gets paid to do them. It’s called non-profit and nobody cares that you care.”

    I can’t help but feel guilty in knowing that, like your situation with your husband, my boyfriend would end up supporting me should I choose to leave the corporate world and the support wouldn’t be great since he works in the arts too. The guilt is so overwhelming that I never make the jump and stay miserable.

    I believe in making a difference in the world, but I also want to do so and maintain my independence while doing it.

    Here’s an idea for a future post:
    A girl’s guide to being an independent altruist.

    In the meantime, I will keep chipping away at finding a path that suits me and will definitely check out The Altruism Question, which I was very excited to find online.

    In response to Victoria:
    The crop of college-bound youth in upper income families would benefit greatly from your matched college savings plan. Most of them have no concept of the $ that you make at your part-time job is an investment for your future, not shopping sprees at The Gap. Though one part of me is angry that I carry the burden of my college debt with no help from my parents, I am glad that I understand the suffering of debt and that making a strong decision prior to signing loan checks is critical. So I made the wrong decision, at least I know how to better guide my children when they cross that bridge.

    Your advice to your children parallel’s the last few chapters of a book I am reading, “How Proust Can Change Your Life” by Alain De Botton, who uses characters in Proust’s writing to illustrate how true appreciation of an object or relationship comes through prolonged desire to require it rather than having it at the moment’s desire. Simple, but explained in a way that makes me wish I read Proust sooner.

  7. Jonathan Fields
    Jonathan Fields says:

    Hey Penelope,

    Great post. There is actually an entire approach to business management and entrepreneurship based on generosity couched in the law of Karma – you get what you give – that teaches giving on many levels as the key to success in business.

    It’s laid out in the book, The Diamond Cutter, written by a Buddhist Geshe who spent some 17-years helping grow a $100 million diamond business in NYC through the tenets of generosity and karma, while living a secret life as a Buddhist monk. Fascinating read, whether you agree with it or not.

    In fact, I recently had the opportunity to spend some time studying the pricniples in the book as taught by Michael Gordon, the founder of mega-salon and hair-care giant, Bumble & Bumble, who built his company upon these very principles with little formal education and then sold it to Estee Lauder for reported nearly 9-figure payout.

    For most people, the notion of trying to grow a business/career/life by giving more than you get on a regular basis seems beyond absurd. But, it seems, those who’ve risen to challenge may have a lot teach us.

    Thanks for a wonderful start to the week with this post!


  8. Matt Bingham
    Matt Bingham says:

    How true, How true…most of your business career is about meeting and helping people, along with creating relationships along the way. Perhaps the “book worm” could use to get out of the library – but the party animal could use to get in the library too. Balance is everything…if you don’t have it, you’ll fall. Cheesy I know ;)


  9. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Good post. Something else I’ve noticed — and I think Penelope has blogged about before — is how many students don’t obtain work experience (paid or volunteer) while in college. They focus on grades, studying, and grades and maybe participate in an academic club related to their field of study (maybe).

    The result is someone with good grades but no real world experience — one dimensional beings.

    It’s much harder to land a good job and excel in any job without a multi-faceted perspective on the world (for all the reasons Penelope and others raised above).

    While it’s important to learn what you can from a course (after all you or someone is paying for it and if you’re not there to learn, you’re wasting time and money), this doesn’t always mean you need to get an A in it.

    College students should focus on ending the 4 – 5 years as well rounded individuals. Having a part-time job, volunteering, pursuing internships or co-op education opportunities, participating in sports, etc. should all be pursued while in college. Try new things. Try “old” things again that you didn’t like in high school, in the new context of college. Even if you hated PE / Gym in high school, you may find that a social, non-competitive volleyball club is a lot of fun in college, for example.

    One final tip — learn to play golf if the opportunity presents itself. So much networking among men — and increasingly women — I’m noticing takes place on the golf course. I’ve never had time to learn and really wish I could play a mediocre (ie not too embarassing) round of golf. You might say “that’s old boys” or “elitist” and maybe it is — but it doesn’t change how valuable it can be in many cities’ and industries’ business circles (and if you want to work for a non-profit, being able to play golf with those that fund your cause will be valuable).

  10. Peter McAlpine
    Peter McAlpine says:

    Hello, Penelope!

    I’ve come across your blog by accident. I’d like to add this comment, if I may.

    My daughter, Jasmine, is at university here near Bangkok. The courses are the usual knowledge-oriented “stuff”, lacking many things that one needs to know after university to lead a happy and successful life. So I am adding an area that, in my opinion, should be taught at all schools and universities, and which would prepare students better for the outside world.

    I know this sounds all New Age and weird, but it’s not, and it’s very easy to do. It’s knowledge that stems from studying quantum physics, thought energy, heart research, vibrations, and thought energy, mainly, but it may take many, many years to find its way into school and university courses.

    The area relates to how to use thought energy and love to impact one’s body’s electromagnetic field to make oneself happier and other people happier too. When you develop your thought energy, and your spiritual energy through developing certain spiritual values, and use the law of attraction, you find that your electromagnetic field changes, and when you get close to people, you have a very positive effect on them, which in turn has a positive effect on oneself.

    I worked out how to do it when I was trying to work out how to create a level of spa resort guest experience that goes beyond 5-stars, but students could use it in many ways, including to find friends much more easily. Men won’t need chat-up lines, for example. You attract people through your own electromagnetic energy field. Students could benefit in so many other ways both in the work place and in their personal life.

    I’m also teaching her how to benefit from the law of attraction so that she won’t have to work for someone else when she finishes university. When this LoA is blended with a focus on love and altruism, it’s wonderful. But I doubt if universities will be interested in this sort of thing as you can’t grade it. It makes you very happy, and this is much more important than a degree grade.

  11. Duncan
    Duncan says:

    Great post.
    Totally agree about generosity.
    Can’t throw the books completely away though – good marks in College are sometimes the minimum requirement to even be considered for some of life’s really interesting work.
    Earning credibility is tiresome, but it still does have to be earnt. Just like trust, really.

  12. Sean
    Sean says:

    1. MBA for me – all A’s for the sport of it – once the art of it is found + luck = makes all the difference $$$ – thrive on visits to the old campus!

  13. Angel Armendariz
    Angel Armendariz says:

    Education 2.0…nice headline. Altruism is definitely something that engenders happiness all around. There really is no objection to this. Nietzsche and Any Rand might have slight objections; of course they valued Self-Development and power more than moral altruism.

    In the case of education it would truly work wonders for our society. From my experience, altruism is rare in its most authentic form. I was lucky enough to be brought up with a high value on altruism.

    The truth of it is that when you help or make someone experience any level of pleasure, then you immediately feel a greater pleasure within. That is, if you allow yourself to. Many of my fellow classmates in school, and coworkers in several jobs viewed giving as pleasure-less. It’s as if they knew no other way of experiencing pleasure or happiness other than money or getting something for themselves.

    We can honestly experience the whole palate of happiness through different channels of experience. The more we embrace an eclectic approach to our growth and happiness the more it can be shared with everyone else. Education 2.0 would thrive with touch of altruism.

    Thanks for the Thoughts Penelope.

  14. Melanie
    Melanie says:

    Matt, I agree that there definitely needs to be a balance between studying all the time and giving to others.

    One great thing about college is that there are so many service-oriented groups to become involved with that you are bound to find something you are truly passionate about.

    Now in the business world it’s often praised to do volunteer work outside of your job and shows your involvement in the community. Building upon the foundation started in college, I am more in tune with giving service – and enjoying it.

    I would say that “giving” builds your character, but having the intellectual knowledge and ability to carry on a professional conversation and do quality work is equally as important. I would argue that I find just as much personal satisfaction and happiness from a job well done as when I am helping others – it’s just that helping other people tends to have a more emotional element to it.

  15. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    sometimes I feel guilty for wanting to leave teaching because I know that this career is emotionally rewarding and I’m doing something positive for society. I know I’m doing a good thing. But somehow, it’s just not enough. I just have to find another way to “help” people that also satisfies my creative needs.

  16. Dawn Cardon
    Dawn Cardon says:

    As a recent college grad, I figured out far too late that my grades weren’t worth the sacrifice they required. There is a HUGE amount of difference in terms of time spent between an A and an A- and especially between an A and a B+. While I obsessed about the tiny numerical differences these grades made in my GPA, I should have been realizing that I was sacrificing memories for those tiny smidgens of a decimal.

    I didn’t really start thinking about opportunity cost (which, as an economics major, I certainly should have!) until I spent the summer between my junior and senior year sat an investment bank working 90+ hours a week and finally coming to the realization that at some point, sacrifice isn’t worth it. I also realized how incredibly wonderful college was (more so than the working world, or for SURE at least the job I had that summer!)

    I may have spent 3 years of college working more than I should, but at least I’ve finally come to understand how important relationships are. My next employer may be less happy that I’ve had this epiphany, but I’ll sure be more enjoyable to be around at the workplace!

  17. Peter McAlpine
    Peter McAlpine says:

    Dawn, I did the same thing at university when I did my BA from 1975-1979. You have made a very important realization. Spending time on developing one’s ability to develop relationships and on becoming stronger in the core spiritual values of relationships is very important, and university life is a great opportunity to improve in this area. But, of course, studying hard to get the good final grade does help one to get one’s first job.

    Such is the importance in business of creating a loving, caring, and warm organization that I make a living from doing this. Being strong in the spiritual values of service (love, care, warmth, empathy, and in the use of intuition) is very important in leading a happy and successful life; not just knowledge and rational thinking. Universities should focus so much more than they do on these “soft” areas as they prepare people for the non-academic, “outside world”.

    The times are changing very quickly, and the days of male dominance are fading and will continue to fade. The importance of being able to and wanting from the heart to show love, care, warmth, and empathy is gradually increasing even in business. The importance of intuition is also growing in importance.

    With this trend, the role of the leader is changing, and the need for leaders who can build relationships is growing. It is no coincidence that more and more women are being chosen for leadership and sales positions as women tend to be naturally stronger in the relevant spiritual values (love, care, warmth, etc.) and in relationship-building.

    The value of women’s natural strengths and nature in business is being recognized more and more, especially in service industries. Luxury resorts, for example, in my experience aim to hire 70% women and 30% men in S.E. Asia because it is generally easier to create a loving and caring guest experience with women, and this is where the money is made in the hotel industry at the 4-star and 5-star levels nowadays.

    The days of the domination of the forceful behaviours traditionally stronger in men are starting to fade away as they don’t work like they used to in developing a business; nor are they generally desired by customers anymore. We all have to adapt. The education of men will have to change to include a stronger focus on relationship-building, love, care, service, etc., and it should be built into school and university education.

    Don’t be surprized if you are asked at your job interview, “Give me some recent examples of how you have shown love and care.”

    So, even if universities don’t build this aspect of education into the curriculum, students should focus on it themselves or they will receive a very loud wake-up call when they leave university.

  18. Michale zhu
    Michale zhu says:

    i am a college studets in china, i also feel puzzled about how to live my life fruitful, you know ,in china, lots of studends commit themselves into science and other subject,but forget about some more import thing to get in mind ,just like teamwork , to communictate effectivly and so on.give some advices ,please ..

  19. Kristiequigley
    Kristiequigley says:

    I love your blog! (i’ve only read two articles, but so far so good :) haha) Thanks for sharing  all of your great thought on college and life.

  20. Kristiequigley
    Kristiequigley says:

    I love your blog! (i’ve only read two articles, but so far so good :) haha) Thanks for sharing  all of your great thought on college and life.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. ((little fat notebook)) - blog says:

    A reflection on college: what is it for?…

    Those of you active on facebook have probably been tagged in the “25 random things about me” note by this point….

Comments are closed.