In the pursuit of becoming effective leaders and emotionally intelligent individuals, understanding the distinction between generosity and people-pleasing is crucial. While both may appear similar on the surface—acts of giving and kindness—their roots and impacts diverge significantly.

This blog explores these differences, the psychological underpinnings of each behaviour, and how we can cultivate genuine generosity aligned with emotional intelligence principles.

The Essence of Generosity

Generosity is not just an act but a state of heart that involves giving more than what is expected, without seeking anything in return. This idea is emphasised in the Life Coach School podcast, where true generosity is described as giving that emanates from a spirit of service and joy (Castillo, 2016).

The podcast further delineates that genuine generosity should not be tarnished by expectations of reciprocation; even expecting a nod or a thank you can convert the joyful act into a transactional experience.

Generosity is fundamentally about the intention behind the giving—focusing not on controlling outcomes or altering personal states but on what one can offer.

This perspective shifts the focus from self-centred gain to contributing selflessly to the welfare of others, ultimately enhancing the giver’s own sense of fulfilment and connection with humanity.

The Pitfalls of People-Pleasing

People-pleasing, while superficially similar to generosity, often stems from an underlying survival mechanism, particularly for those who have experienced trauma or significant stress in early life.

Such individuals may develop people-pleasing behaviours as a strategy to avoid conflict, gain approval, and ensure emotional safety in their relationships. This behaviour is rooted in a fear of rejection and a deep-seated need for external validation, often at the expense of one’s own well-being (Lobel, 2021).

It’s important to understand that people-pleasers often do not recognise the self-compromising nature of their actions. They might believe they are acting out of kindness, when in fact, they are driven by an anxiety to please others as a way to secure love and prevent abandonment.

This mistaken identity between genuine kindness and people-pleasing can lead to a cycle of resentment and emotional exhaustion, as the people-pleaser continually sacrifices their own needs without genuine reciprocity or fulfilment.

Psychological Insights and Positive Intelligence

Positive psychology research has consistently shown that acts of kindness are linked to improved well-being. Engaging in kindness and generosity can increase one’s happiness, social connectedness, and overall mental health (Lyubomirsky, et al., 2005).

Drawing from Positive Intelligence (Chamine, 2012), behaviours driven by genuine kindness and generosity originate from the ‘Sage’ perspective, characterised by empathy, creativity, and interconnectedness. In contrast, people-pleasing often emerges from the ‘Saboteur’ perspective, marked by negative emotions and self-serving intentions.

Cultivating a sage mindset enables individuals to perform acts of kindness that are fulfilling and supportive of others, without the hidden costs associated with people-pleasing.

Practical Strategies for Cultivating True Generosity

To foster genuine generosity, consider the following strategies:

  • Self-reflection: Regularly assess your motivations for giving. Are you seeking approval or genuinely interested in others’ welfare?
  • Mindfulness practices: Engage in mindfulness to stay present and aware, reducing the likelihood of slipping into people-pleasing behaviours (and anticipating future reciprocation or expectation).
  • Setting boundaries: Clearly define what you are willing to give and recognise when you are compromising your own needs for others’ approval.
  • Positive reinforcement: Celebrate acts of true kindness within yourself and others, reinforcing the positive impact of genuine generosity.


By distinguishing between generosity and people-pleasing, individuals can enhance their leadership skills and emotional intelligence, leading to healthier relationships in various areas of their live.

Embracing the principles of positive psychology and Positive Intelligence can guide us in nurturing a culture of genuine kindness and robust emotional health.

If you are looking to deepen your understanding and practice of these principles, consider reaching out for personalised coaching that can help you apply these insights effectively in your personal and professional life.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Sophie



Castillo, B. (2016, May 19). Generosity. The Life Coach School Podcast (Episode 115). Retrieved from

Chamine, S. (2012). Positive Intelligence. San Francisco: Greenleaf Book Group Press.

Lobel, D. S. (2021). The Difference Between People-Pleasing and Being Kind. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 111-131.


Is perfectionism holding your life back?

Is perfectionism holding your life back?

The High Costs of Perfectionism Perfectionism, the relentless pursuit of flawlessness, can often be a double-edged sword. While striving for excellence can drive achievement and success, an unchecked desire for perfection can hold you back in significant and often...