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Why we give

Why We Give
By: Rick Brewer, Ed.D, MBA
November 5, 2019


Do you think about money occasionally or do you obsess and worry whether or not you have enough? When reduced to lowest terms, we have only four choices when it comes to our money. We can choose to spend it, save it, invest it, or give it. The choice that we make and the degree to which we choose to act among these alternatives says much about who we are and what we believe. Money can be a great servant, but it makes a terrible task master. Remember the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 6:21, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.On July 24, 2014, Pope Francis tweeted that “when one lives attached to power, pride, or money, that it is impossible to be truly happy”.

Giving is big business in the United States. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, Americans gave $427.71 Billion in charitable giving in 2018. This is a .7% increase above the total giving of 2017. The largest amount, $292.09 Billion (68% of total giving) came from individuals. Foundations contributed $75.86 Billion (18% of total giving), Specific bequests accounted for $39.71 Billion (9% of total giving). Corporations gave $20.05 Billion (5% of total giving). Two of every three Americans contributed to charities last year. A study published by GuideStar looked at demographics of who are givers and found that race is not a factor in determining who would be most likely to donate to charity (Roberts, 2019). The study found that the most giving people are married couples, followed by single women, then single men (Roberts, 2019).

For many years, one assumptiongiven to explain the generosity of Americans was that the United States tax code provided incentive. Prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, individuals could deduct 100% of charitable contributions to reduce their taxable income and income tax due. However, in the reform of 2017 individuals received higher standard deduction($24,000 per married couple). In exchange for the increased standard deduction plus reduced tax bracket rates, the total taxable deductions needed to file the long form (the 1040), was increased to $24,000 (for a married couple). The effect of this change in tax law was to eliminate the need for millions of tax filers to use the long form (1040) and with that elimination, the inability to use charitable deductions as reduction of taxable income.

If we eliminate the financial incentive of tax benefit to explain our desire to give to charity, then what altruistic or other reasons can be found to explain our desire to give? Because a higher percentage of Americans give to charity, compared to the rest of the world, then it seems reasonable to ask whether the amount that we have affects what we give to charity. The logical answer to this question would seem to be yes because the greater amount a person has in his or her possession would indicate a greater amount available to that person to be given to charity. But closer examination finds that as the amount of money available to a person to give to charity increases, the percentage of the available amount actually donated tends to go down (Markman, 2019). Middle and lower income Americans give a higher percentage of their available funds to charity, but wealthier Americans give more money (Markman, 2019). The question to be discussed in this article is to understand the reasons why we give?

Ways That Giving is Good for the Giver
A study published in Greater Good Magazine examined our motivations to give. The authors of this study found five ways that giving is good for you.

These are listed below (Suttie and Marsh, 2010):

1) Giving Makes Us Feel Happy

Some people give from a sense of obligation, guilt, or to set an example. Such persons may have been compelled by parents, bosses, or the situationat hand to be giving. A gift was given, but no benefit was received by the giver because the motive of the heart was not right. This type of giving may have benefit to the recipient but can have negative long-term impacts on the physical and mental health of the giver by making the giver feel less compassionate or empathetic and more disappointed and disillusioned (World Vision, 2016). We know that if the “willingness of the heart is right, then the gift is acceptable to God according to what we have, not what we do not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12).

Giving is intended by God to be an exercise of worship and thankfulness to Him for the blessings that He has given; a pleasure to the giver and simultaneously being an answer to prayer of the recipient. It stands to reason that people who are happy are more likely to give (World Vision, 2016). Giving within our means and values makes a giver feel joyful in the same way as if the giver had been the recipient (World Vision, 2016). Remember the instruction of 2 Chronicles 9:7, “God loves a cheerful giver”. The points below summarize study findings relative to giving making the giver feel happy when he or she gives.

Harvard University study found that when we give money to someone else (rather than spending it on ourselves) that we are happier (Norton, 2008).This study finding supports Acts 20:35 when the Apostle Paul quoted Jesus saying, “That is more blessed to give than to receive”. University of California-Riverside study found similar result when participants were asked to volunteer to do 5 random acts of kindness each week for six weeks in duration. This study is supported by the words of 1 John 3:18 telling us, “to love beyond words, but in action and deeds”.

The majority people in the United States believe that being happy is meaningful, desirable, and a goal worthy of pursuit (Lyubomirsky, 2019). The pursuit of happiness is a value deep in the American soul since it waswritten by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence and appears more than 100 times in the Bible.Jorge Mall and the National Institute of Health in 2006 found that giving to charity activates the part of the brain that releases pleasure endorphins creating a feeling of a “warm glow” or a “helper’s high” It has been said that, “Money cannot buy happiness” for ourselves but when we choose to give it away to charity we find happiness in knowing that we have made a difference.

2) Giving is Good For Our Mental and Physical Health

As we mature from childhood to adulthood we find that giving a gift becomes more satisfying than receiving a gift. Why? The look of pure joy on the face of the recipient of the gift as he or she unwraps what we gave is sufficient reward for the giver. Many of us are far more endowed by God with resources greater than those of others around us. Awareness of our blessing creates the desire within us to help make a difference to make our communities and the world a better place. When we give we enrich our lives as well as the lives of the persons that our gift helps (Haltiwanger, 2014). Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

Stony Brook University medicine study found that giving to others extends health benefits to chronically ill patients including those with HIV and Multiple Sclerosis (Post, 2007).Johns Hopkins University and the University of Tennessee collaborative study found that people who provide social support to others had lower blood pressure, thus improving health and longevity by stress reduction (Piferi and Lawler, 2006).University of California-Riverside found that happiness produced by giving to others is one of the most significant dimensions of human experience and emotional life (Lyubomirsky, 2019)University of California Berkley found that seniors who volunteer for two or three days per week are 44% less likely to die over a five-year period (even those with poor exercise habits, general health concerns, and negative habits, such as smoking (Oman, Thoreson, and McMahon, 1999).University of Michigan study found extended life benefits to seniors who provided volunteer and emotional support to help to friends, family, neighbors, and their spouses had a reduced risk of dying over a five year period of time (Brown, Nesse, Vinokur, and Smith, 2003).

Taken together these study findings are supported by the promise of God found in Psalm 41:1-3, that if we “consider the poor, that in the day of our trouble the Lord will deliver us” and raise us up from our sickbed. Matthew 10:42 summarized tells us that a relationship exists between how we treat the poor, needy, and vulnerable around us and our future reward. The Lord keeps intricate account records even to the detail of a cup of water given in his name.Proverbs 19:17 promises us that when we give to the poor that we are lending to God and that He will repay us for this act of faith

3) Giving Promotes Cooperation and Social Connection

Giving and receiving are hard-wired into our personality (World Vision. 2016). They are as natural to living as inhaling oxygen. Giving and receiving make us feel connected to each other and to something bigger than ourselves. Empathy is the ability to feel the pain of another person which can ignite the desire of compassion to act upon the feeling of empathy to “make a difference” to change the situation for the better by our gift.Empathy causes us to lose our sense of self and to focus on actions to take to relieve the problem felt by the other person (Briggman, 2013). The emotions of love and empathy are closely tied together because each of these emotions cares about the well-being of others and celebrates with joy when the problem at hand is resolved and the recipient of our gift is happy (Briggman, 2013). When we give we feel a high degree of empathy (Briggman, 2013).
Cooperation and Connection happens when the beliefs, ideals, and values of the giver are aligned with the recipient. Some ways to know that alignment is occurring are to be similar in one or more of the following ways: world view, social group, hobbies, faith, and intellectual pursuit. We give to organizations that we feel are most like us in reflecting our values. As our similarity increases with an organization, our empathy rises for the need of the recipient, and then our willingness to give of our time and money rises too. We want to know that our gift will make a difference in the lives of the people being served by the organization to whom we are giving (Briggman, 2013). It is the responsibility of the recipient organization to show they are good stewards of the donated funds by giving it to the people served by the non-profit organization, rather than being swallowed by administrative overhead cost. Trust of institutional stewardship to follow through to do what the organization has promised with the donated funds is the foundation upon which we give of our time and money. If fundamental trust is broken or not easily seen by the giver, no money, time, or talent will be given.

University of California- Riverside study found that happiness from giving benefits the individual, and in conjunction with other individuals receiving those same benefits, makes for a better, healthier, stronger society (Lyubomirsky, 2019). Proverbs 18:16 reminds us that, “a gift opens the way and ushers the giver into the presence of the great”.University of South Carolina and University of California collaborative study found that when you give to others your gift sets in motion a chain of events that leads to rewards returning to you either from the recipient of your gift, or by someone else (Simpson and Willer, 2007). This study finding aligns with the words of Luke 6:38, “Give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over shall be poured into your lap. For with the measure that you use, it will be measured back to you”. Some would also refer to this as karma; an example of the law of cause and effect. University of Chicago study found that when we give to others we build bridges of trust and cooperation with the recipient and others that is good for our mental and physical health by making the giver and recipient feel closer to one another with positive and charitable view of each other (Cacioppo and Patrick, 2008). The words of Proverbs 11:25 verify this study finding because, “a generous person will prosper; and whosoever refreshes others will be refreshed”.

4) Giving Promotes an Attitude of Gratitude

Giving should be a natural reflection of the values of the giver. A grateful person is one who gives (Karns, 2010). The gift can be similar a seed planted in the good ground by the giver which as it matures over time will produce “thirty, sixty, or one hundred times more” (Matthew 13:8). When we feel that an injustice has been done, it causes feelings of righteous anger to well up within us. The rise of injustice is a call to arms to right the wrong; and by doing so make the world a better place. By giving in this situation the giver is able to say to himself or herself, “I am thankful that I was able to do something for that person or group of persons”. In this way we are fulfilling the promise of Proverbs 31:9 which says, “Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy”.

University of California-Davis and University of Miami study found that feeling and expressing gratitude is central to happiness, good health, and strong social bonds within family or community. This process of “counting one’s blessings” yields increased exercise and increased optimistic viewpoint of life (Emmons and McCullough, 2003). 2 Corinthians 9:11 reminds us that we will be “enriched in every way so that we can be generous on every occasion…and bring thanksgiving to God”. Developing gratitude in daily living is critical to being happy. The expression of words of gratitude boosts the attitude of the speaker and hearer strengthening their bonds of kindness and social connection. In 2 Thessalonians 1:3 we are told that, “We ought always to give thanks to God for each other, brothers, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater.

Having an attitude of gratitude is good for your health in the following ways: (Emmons, 2010)
1) Exercise more and take better care of their health
2) Sleep longer with better quality of sleep and awake feeling more refreshed
3) Stronger immune system
4) Lower blood pressure
5) Less bothered by aches and pains

Living in an attitude of gratitude has the following mental benefits: (Emmons, 2010)
1) Higher levels of positive emotions
2) More alert, alive, and awake
3) More joy and pleasure
4) More optimism and happiness
5) Greater goal attainment
6) Decreased anxiety and depression

Choosing to live gratefully for the life that we live has the following social benefits: (Emmons, 2010)
1) More helpful, generous, and compassionate
2) More forgiving
3) More outgoing
4) Less lonely and isolated

5) Giving is Contagious

The gesture of doing an act of kindness such as volunteering time or giving money to others during special emphases such as Giving Tuesday or the offering plate each Sunday, yields feelings of joy that when multiplied through communities would make the world a better place for all of us. As we see others giving to a cause, whether by physical sight in church or Online by the measure of a thermometer on a webpage, we are encouraged to join the cause and give too. Identity giving is contagious. When we identify with a group of people served by an organization and we give our time and money in support, then we enthusiastically go to tell our friends and family whom we believe most likely to identify with that group of people too so that we motivate them to give. We give because we want our actions to align with what we say that we believe.

University of California-San Diego and Harvard University collaboration found that when we give we help more than the immediate recipient because we start a “ripple effect of generosity” in our community. Altruism spreads by three degrees, from person to person to person. Each person in a network could impact dozens or hundreds of other people to give by their simple act of giving (Fowler and Christakis, 2008). We see in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 that God desires us to give with a happy heart rather than because we feel obligated or coerced by condemnation. He wants us to bless others so that we may be blessed to be even more generous in deeds and money. Claremont University study found that giving releases the hormone, oxytocin, a pleasure hormone. This causes feelings of “warmth, euphoria, connection to others, generosity, and empathy- often referred to as an “oxytocin high” and a “virtuous circle of one person’s gift triggers another person to give” (Zak,2005).

As we approach the holiday season begin to think of ways that you can give back with donation or volunteering time. You can see from this article that both types of giving and connected to health, emotional, and social benefits for you as the donor. You may even find that as your giving ripples through the community up to 3 times that you will meet people (and become friends) with someone whom you would never have met otherwise.The only way that money can buy happiness is when you spend it on others. Anne Frank wrote “No one has ever become poor by giving”. Remember the promise of Proverbs 17:22, “a merry (happy) heart does good, like a medicine”.

Emotions are a source of energy connecting the abilities of our body with the willpower of our mind, and the goodness of our spirit in agreement to focus on completing one task for the betterment of ourselves and the world around us. Uplifting emotions connect us with tasks that bring joy and happiness, while downward emotions connect us to fear and resentment. The choice is ours relative to choosing which emotions upon which we will act. We tend to think of emotions as either positive or negative but recent research indicates that emotional energy is neutral. It is our actions and interpretations of that emotion that creates the positive or negative feeling. Research of neural circuitry shows that our emotional brain (left hemisphere) responds faster to stimuli than our analytical brain (right hemisphere). The emotional brain has more circuits reaching out to the analytical brain than the analytical to the emotional. The emotional brain is connected to all areas of the analytical brain, while the analytical brain does not reach out to touch all areas of the emotional brain.

A life well lived is one that is fulfilling purpose. Fulfillment is found in making a difference in the lives of others. We find fulfillment and significant meaning in life when we give to others of our time and money. John Templeton said, “Happiness comes from spiritual wealth, not material wealth. It comes from giving, not getting. When we bring happiness to others we cannot help bringing happiness to ourselves also.

To get joy we must give it. To keep joy, we must scatter it”. Giving of money or time is a cost. But the money or time that you give today may mean the difference today between life and death for someone. Because of the benefits of giving that come to the giver it is easy to become selfish in giving, rather than being selfless. A review of social media gives a window to understanding the mindset of the givers of today. What we feel is important, because from the feelings of our heart, actions such as volunteering and giving follow (see Proverbs 4:23).

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