5 Reasons Giving Is Good for Wellbeing

Today marks the start of the next wellbeing element in the INTENT framework: Being Engaged. We’re talking about civic engagement in particular – the kind that generates community wellbeing. For the next month we’ll be exploring one vital aspect of civic engagement: Giving. You might want to check out this post to see what I learned about giving at Srisa Asoke. Or you can just dive right into these 5 reasons giving is good for wellbeing.

Tip # 181: Giving is good for our health

We now have reams of research that says giving to others is a surefire way to boost our own wellbeing. A 2008 study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton found that giving money to someone else makes us happier than spending it on ourselves.

Giving to charities actually activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, according to a 2006 study by the National Institutes of Health. And numerous studies point to the health benefits of giving. My favorite is a 1999 University of California, Berkeley study. This found that elderly people who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44 percent less likely to die over a five-year period than were non-volunteers. 

Tip # 182: Giving fills government gaps

Liberals argue that the government should ensure the wellbeing of all citizens (especially the poorest) through social safety nets. This means cash, in-kind transfers, social pensions, public works, and school lunch programs. Unfortunately, the World Bank reports that social safety nets are inadequate worldwide, particularly in low-income countries where only 1 in 5 of the poorest receive coverage. Some mission-driven businesses are picking up the slack, but the bulk of this provisioning work happens outside of the market. . It’s clear that community wellbeing depends on individuals who give freely, especially when government-sponsored social programs fall short.

Tip # 183: Giving is our civic responsibility

If you had a high school civics class, you might vaguely recall this definition of civic engagement (from Civic Responsibility and Higher Education):

Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.

As for responsibility, the textbook goes on to say:

A morally and civically responsible individual recognizes himself or herself as a member of a larger social fabric and therefore considers social problems to be at least partly his or her own… and to take action when appropriate.

Tip # 184: Giving is in our social fabric

It’s in the American social fabric. Civic engagement has always had a bit of an uphill battle in America. When Ben Franklin organized the nation’s first volunteer fire department and voluntary militia, institutionalizing the ethic of civic engagement, he had to contend with the early Americans’ individualistic tendencies. After all, they came to America seeking religious freedom and suffered great hardships, each for his/her own personal salvation. But Franklin had different ideas. His philosophy was “one served not to save their soul, but to build a strong society.”  

Tip # 185: Giving is in our self-interests

The Buddhist sense of self (based on the theory of conditionality and the law of causality) is connected to other entities rather than isolated; and as such, an individual’s actions have consequences arising in a non-linear fashion, possibly resulting in a karmic boomerang. This clearly expands an individual’s notion of self-interest. The neoclassical Economic Man’s rational choice process stops at satisfying a personal desire. However, a Buddhist version would factor in possible effects on all spheres of existence: individual, society, and nature. In this model, civic duty lands squarely in the realm of self-interest. What’s good for society is good for the individual, since each one’s existence depends on the other. 

Next Week…

We’ll dig into the “how to” of giving with 12 tips on giving your “time and talent,” otherwise known as volunteering 🙂 See you then!


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