How to Be Happier, Step 1: Giving
On January 2 I posted a list from the blog of psychologist Jeremy Dean of ten habits that science has shown make people happier. For the next ten days I’m posting individually on each of these actions/states of mind in hopes that we can all learn to make them habits.
Today’s topic is giving.
We all know how to give. We give to our families, friends, loved ones on special occasions or just spontaneously, and doing so makes us happy. But it’s possible to become even happier by giving to people we don’t know, who we’ll never meet, who can never repay us, simply because they need our help.
Yesterday I read in our local paper that our new mayor-elect, who’s being inaugurated Monday, called for a three-day “celebration”—but not the usual indulgent, overexpensive inaugural party that most politicians mount. Instead he asked for the people of Providence to do something good for others over this weekend. As one example, several locations around the city will be collecting food for our state food bank.
This is only one example of how every one of us can do something to help others.
Giving doesn’t have to cost a lot. We don’t need to be millionaires endowing schools or museums or making huge donations to charities. We’re all capable of doing something, no matter how small. Small things add up.
Do you have a cause that means something to you, but you can’t afford to make large donations? My primary cause is mental illness, particularly research on Alzheimer’s and other dementias. I’ve supported the Menninger Hospital, and a few years ago I began to donate regularly to the Alzheimer’s Association. I set up an automatic donation of a monthly amount of $25 to be charged to my credit card. This gives the Association an assured amount every month, and truthfully I barely notice the difference, and I don’t have to think about what and when and how much to give. You can donate any amount that’s comfortable; even $5 or $10 a month spread out over many donors can be great help to an organization.
Another example: Someone wrote to Carolyn Hax’s advice column a few days ago to share the story of how her family—not a rich one by any means—set up a college scholarship at the high school they’d all gone to. They got tax-exempt status and funded several $1,000 scholarships through small events like golf tournaments and garage sales.
Small things add up!
Of course many things other than money can be given. Time spent with adolescents or elderly people in nursing homes. Teaching adults to read. Getting involved in church activities. Anyone who can knit or crochet can donate handmade items to numerous charities. Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity; you can be valuable even if you don’t know how to hold a hammer. Pick up an extra can of food or box of pasta when you go to the supermarket. Collect them over a few weeks or months, then donate to your food bank.
We all want a better, more caring world. What if every one of us made a commitment to do something for others this year? Not only would we make ourselves happier, but we’d be contributing to the happiness of others. Is that a win-win situation or not?