By Malavika Eby
This September 5th, as we commemorate International Day of Charity, let’s reflect on how we can give to those in need, in ways both big and small.
When you think of charity, what usually comes to mind? I think of soup drives, donation boxes, Goodwill… you get the idea. So with today’s article, I’ll focus on these practices which we customarily refer to as charity: donating money, clothes, toys and food, among other things.
Something to recognize while we’re on the topic is that there’s never any shortage of need. Meaning, someone (actually, many someones) is always in need of many of the same utilities and mini luxuries that we already possess the privilege of having. I know I’m generalizing a bit, but our shared ability to access the technology to read this blog does imply a certain level of financial privilege. This is acknowledged, of course, not to guilt any one of us, but rather to appreciate that many of us can provide charity if only we make the choice to do so. After all, a can of soup does cost less than a dollar. An extra dollar of expense once each week or month can’t be too bad, can it?
When I’m making an effort to be more giving, the first question I ask myself is, “What do I already possess that I can share with others?” This could be something tangible and countable, like a few dollars of the money I earn teaching art, or my too-small but gently worn clothes from seventh grade. It could also be something like my creative skills (which I can use to sew masks or crochet sweaters), my time (which I can use to volunteer), or even my influence in a certain organization, school, or company (which I can use to raise awareness for and divert funding and action toward an important cause). Side-note: I find it very interesting how at their very core, each of our strengths are actually micro (or macro) doses of power and tools we can wield for the benefit of those in need.
If you’re following along with my thought process, that means once you can narrow down a solid answer to this question, you can understand how to give to others in a way that does not feel draining to you. If you’re on a tight budget and struggling to pay bills as is, monetary donations might not be your best bet at the moment. On the other hand, most of us at least have a few pairs of clothes we can’t wear anymore, which we can sort into a bin and drop off at Goodwill at the end of the week.
I want to acknowledge that in talking about how we can be more charitable, I do not mean to deign moral superiority, as though those who can’t afford to be charitable now are somehow lesser than those who can. A theme I try to maintain throughout my writings is that we are all highly complex in nature, and know very little about each other’s backgrounds, fears and thoughts—sometimes, even in close relationships. For that reason, I cannot assume that we’re all equally able to be charitable as one another, for whatever reasons there may be. Thus, this blog particularly serves to be a resource for those of you who consciously are able and willing to contribute a small part of your money, time, or skills to people who would benefit tremendously from them.
Before I conclude, I want to talk about one last thing—Who are we benefiting with our acts of charity? The people who are on the receiving end of them, right, but what about those on the giving end? Meaning—us?
It might feel counterintuitive to internalize that giving actually increases our feelings of happiness and contentment, because by giving to others, aren’t we losing something or the other? Maybe we lost an hour of our day, packing the old clothes and driving to Goodwill and back, or maybe we lost $20 by making a hefty donation to the Red Cross last week. Actually, I’m reminded of that one Friends episode where Joey challenges Phoebe to think of just one unselfish, good deed. Because let’s face it, there really is a certain satisfaction to being charitable—and research knows it too!
A psychological research project by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton in 2013 revealed that when randomly selected subjects were given $5 or $20 to spend on either themselves or other people, those who spent their money on others reported happier moods later in the day, regardless of the amount of money they were given. It should also be noted that there was no difference in mood between the two groups at the start of the experiment.
The truth is that we often underestimate or misjudge what truly makes us happy, as I wrote about in my previous blog for National Happiness Happens Day. So for this year’s International Day of Charity, why not take a minute to do the following: 1) Reflect on how you can give to others (What are you good at? Where does your power lay? What do you have?); 2) Make your contribution, and; 3) Appreciate the third and final piece of the process—the joy of giving!
With that said, Happy International Day of Charity, my good people!
Dunn, Elizabeth W., and Michael I. Norton. “How To Make Giving Feel Good.” Greater Good Science Center, 18 June 2013, greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_make_giving_feel_good.