The month of November always makes me think about giving and gratitude (not that I don’t the rest of the year). It feels good to do things for others—even when it’s something as simple as holding the door open for a stranger, or giving up your seat for someone on the train.
I’ve met many people who are searching for happiness, but are often looking for answers in the wrong places. They base their happiness on transient experiences that come and go, rather than viewing happiness as a state of being. I’ve found that long lasting happiness is built on two things: giving and being grateful.
Both ancient philosophy and modern science support the idea that giving leads to happiness. S. Francis of Assisi once said, “For it is in giving that we receive.”
In The Giving Way To Happiness: Stories and Science Behind The Life-Changing Power of Giving, Jenny Santi explores the positive impact of giving through insights from philanthropists, stories of generosity and ties in her own personal experiences.
So how can we give in a way that leads to happiness and fulfillment? This excerpt will give you some insight:
“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” Mother Teresa
“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” Edward Everett Hale
1. Find your passion
I strongly believe that your passion should be the foundation for your giving. More commonly, though, we become part of something because someone asked us to do it, regardless of how interested we are in the cause. Or we give year after year as though we are paying taxes, never paying much attention to whether we are giving to something that deeply matters to us.
When I asked Goldie Hawn what advice she can give to others who want to make a difference, she said, “First of all, find out what you care about, who you care about, what matters to you, what is your passion, how do you want to see change.” Many people who have founded their own charities immediately try and enlist support for their own, but she knew all too well that that what tugs at her heart may be very different from what other people are drawn to. “When you truly look at these things outside of yourself, then you may find your charity, your time, you volunteer period. Find out what it is – is it with children? Is it with hospitals? Find out.”
Mark Vermilion, who ran Steve Jobs’s foundation for the brief time that it existed, said that Jobs wanted to support projects focused on nutrition and vegetarianism, while Vermilion, whom Mr. Jobs reportedly hired away from Apple to run the foundation, said that Mr. Jobs wanted him to promote social entrepreneurs. Can you imagine how different things would have been if Steve Jobs were encouraged to pursue his philanthropic passion?
Harvard Business School’s Michael Norton, who has been working with businesses to maximize their staff’s volunteer experiences, says “We often see companies send their employees out to help with nonprofits. For example, an accounting firm will send their accountants to help build houses. It turns out that accountants, first of all, don’t know anything about building houses. Neither do they like building houses, and so it’s not necessarily even the most rewarding opportunity for them to volunteer. Yet there are so many poor people who actually need help with their taxes – and that’s something that accountants can help with and actually enjoy helping with, because it’s in their area of expertise.”
Giving should be personal. You care about this and not so much about that, and that’s okay. It should not be simply a matter of choosing the right thing, but also a matter of choosing what is right for you. If your heart isn’t fully into it, you’re very likely to get bored, distracted, and apathetic. You’re also very likely to give up when the going gets tough – and things will get tough. If you don’t feel like going totally bald to support a cancer charity, you shouldn’t feel bad about it. Perhaps you can offer your marketing skills for the same charity, or a different charity altogether.
“Watching you grow and discover the world seemed a thousand more times more interesting than the United Nations and their ambitions plans to improve the fate of the planet.” Isabel Allende, on her daughter Paula
We need to reflect back on our personal experiences in order to decide what issues we want to focus on, whom we want to help, and where we want to act. The process is very personal, often evoking difficult memories or experiences. For many people, it is an intensely emotional act.
Excerpted from The Giving Way to Happiness: Stories and Science Behind the Transformative Power of Giving by Jenny Santi. © 2015 by Jennifer Rose W. Santi. Tarcher Books, Penguin Group USA, Penguin Random House.