We live in a world today where many people guard their money fiercely.
Some are not willing to part with it to help others who are less fortunate.
I recently set up a charity fundraiser to raise money for visually impaired people around the world. Raising money was a lot harder than I expected it to be. The whole experience was an eye opener. Several of the people who I would have expected to donate didn’t, yet some who simply weren’t in a financial position to donate still managed to give something.
After doing a bit of research, this pattern was consistent with the most recent charity data I could get my hands on. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those with earnings in the top 20 percent—contributed an average of 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, those in the bottom 20 percent donated 3.2 percent of their income.
Without delving too much into the numbers, it became very clear that the average human being today gives a much lower percentage of their wealth to charity than people from previous generations. Could religion have anything to do with this? We know that our ancestors lived in a more religious world than the one we live in today and that charity is a significant theme in the bible.
“Open your hand generously and extend to (your needy brother) any credit he needs to take care of his wants.” (Deuteronomy 15:8).
This suggests that a minimum of ten percent of one’s income belongs to God and should be used for charity. This is a measure handed down from the Patriarchs, as Jacob himself said to God, “Of all that You give me, I will set aside a tenth to You.” (Genesis 28:22).
The average person these days doesn’t give even close to 10 percent of their income to charity. It begs the question: Has a rise in atheist and agnostic beliefs resulted in people helping each other less over time? It’s certainly something to think about.
There is no doubt that we live in a more hedonistic world where our reptilian survival instincts are on display. Competition for jobs, property and success in general has created a “dog-eat-dog” environment—but we don’t have to buy into it.
There are lots of great reasons to give charity. Here are a few key examples:
1. Giving will increase personal happiness.
People often think about what their contribution will do for the beneficiaries without actually realising that it subconsciously increases their own level of happiness. A 2008 study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and his colleagues found that giving money to someone else elevated participants’ happiness more than spending it on themselves. Giving has also been linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone (often released during sex) that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria and connection to others.
2. Giving promotes gratitude in our society.
Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of a charitable act, feelings of gratitude are created and that is important for society. Research shows us that gratitude is integral to happiness, health and forming social connections. Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, co-directors of the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness, discovered that teaching people to “count their blessings” and foster gratitude caused them to exercise more frequently, be more optimistic and feel better about life overall.
3. Giving can be viral.
When we give, we don’t only help the immediate recipient of our gift. We also spur a ripple effect of generosity through our communities. Worldwide fundraisers for high profile natural disasters have shown us that when one person performs a generous act, many other people follow suit shortly afterwards.
These are just some of the ways giving to others can positively impact our lives. So next time someone approaches you for a donation to a worthwhile cause, think about how giving can benefit you as well as those in need. In the words of Anne Frank,
“No one has ever become poor by giving.”
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Author: Jared Joffe