The Better Me Project—Day 17 (Be Generous)
Today is Tax Day…groan. Some of us are getting back big fat checks, and others…well, not so much. Thinking about taxes inspired today’s precept…in a way. A few years ago, my husband got in this “donating” kick. He told me we need to be generous. Allegedly our accountant had advised us that we needed more charitable donations on our taxes to offset what we owed. Or something like that.
When people start talking about taxes and income and pretty much any math, I actually can feel my mind turning itself off. Remember the adults in the Peanuts cartoons? The wah wah wah noise they always make? Yeah, that’s how people sound when I hear numbers being uttered.
Get to the point, Heather!
Anyway…I kind of flipped out when I saw how much hubby wanted to donate to the various charities that he choose. At that time, we were living paycheck to paycheck—in fact in the summer I couldn’t even go down the shore more than three or four times because we couldn’t afford the gas. And he was giving hundreds of dollars away to charities? We couldn’t afford to be generous. Or so I thought. I protested. He gave anyway.
While I was stewing inside, I have to admit, it did feel good to give money to groups that I had a personal attachment to. I started working in an elementary school soon after and had many new opportunities to take charge of fundraising for many organizations. We organized walks and basketball games for various charities including Walk for Diabetes, Hoops for Heart, Light The Night (Leukemia and Lymphoma Association), and Make a Wish Foundation. If I had to guess, I would say we raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 for various foundations over the years. And damn nothing felt better than handing over a nice fat check to an organization’s representative, knowing that we were doing something to help other people. Our efforts were doing some good for the world. It was a great feeling. I almost wanted to bottle it up and open it anytime I felt down or upset.
This is a universal effect of generosity. According to several of the articles I read, there have been tons of studies done on the effect of generosity. And all have come to the overwhelming consensus that yes, it is much better to give than receive. As a child, I never understood why the adults in my life never seemed to actually want any gifts. My grandmother would say that the greatest gift she could receive was seeing us happy with our gifts. I thought it was a bunch of made up malarky, nonsense that adults would say to confuse kids. Now as an adult, I realize that she was speaking the truth. As much as I hate the nagging feeling that I’m hemorrhaging money around the holidays, there’s such a warm and fuzzy feeling you get from picking just the right gift for someone and seeing their joy when they unwrap it.
And the weird thing about when you are generous is that it doesn’t seem to matter if you know or even see the recipient of your act (hence the good feeling we get from donating to charities). It has actually been shown to affect the chemistry of the brain, releasing a lot of “Feel good” chemicals that make one less likely to suffer from depression and stress*, just like when we perform random acts of kindness like I blogged about Day 8.
What are these “Feel Good” Chemicals you speak of?
A few years ago, the concept of “do good”, “feel good” would not have made sense to me at all. I rarely engaged in altruistic acts, so I didn’t get the “feel good” chemical surge. Not only was I incredibly stingy with my money, but my time as well. It seemed that I never had enough of either, so whenever I had some, I wanted to keep it for myself. Be generous? I don’t think so. How could I feel better by parting with my money or my time? I didn’t think it was possible, but I was wrong.
I’m poor! What Can I do????
I know from personal experience that not all of us can afford to donate obscene sums of money to charities. There are other ways to be generous without spending a ton. Tip your waiter or waitress more than the standard 20% or stick a few bucks in that pesky bucket that the people are shaking at your car at every stoplight on the weekend. Don’t want to spend a lot? Set up a Facebook cause for your birthday. (I did this and was able to donate over $200 to the Alzheimer’s Foundation, a charity near and dear to my heart after losing a grandparent to the disease.)
Even those without a cent to spend can get the feel good experience of generosity by donating a little time. You could volunteer to coach your kid’s baseball team or be in charge of a PTO committee. And yes, those are time consuming—it doesn’t need to be a huge time consuming task, or even a regular one. Shoveling your neighbor’s driveway or spending an hour helping a friend pack for a big move counts. It doesn’t need to go on a resume. It just needs to fill your heart with joy and flood your brain with those feel good chemicals.
Be Generous and Beyond
I’ve found myself with a lot more time these days than I had when the kids were younger. Partially it’s because they don’t require as much care, and partially because I’ve embraced the “messy house” look. I’m also less prone to giving a crap than I did ten years ago. Years of juggling schedules has also taught me how to plan and get things done more efficiently. (Also the fact that nobody is taking folded laundry out of a basket and throwing it around the house helps a bit.)
So with that newfound time, I’ve been looking into volunteering (Animal Shelter, reading to homebound residents). So far, no one wants my help! I’ll keep looking though, because I really want to find an organization that I will enjoy spending my time on. Plus, there’s an added bonus to meeting new people. I never know what future book characters I may meet…hehe.
~”No one every became poor by giving”, Anne Frank
*“What Generosity Does to Your Brain and Life Expectancy”; U.S. News (5/1/15)
**If you’re looking to get that “feel good” feeling right now, click on any of the charity links above to donate. No amount is ever too small! Be generous!