Is it better to give or to receive? If you look at what people write, and listen to what others tell you, it is almost impossible to come away with any thought other than it is better to give. But is it? How is it better? Or is it just something we tell children so they share their toys? At those holidays where people give and receive gifts, how many people have been heard to say, “Oh, Good! Now I can rack up a lot of bills getting presents for people!” And the children waiting excitedly for Christmas to come or trying to figure out if they will, in fact, get a present for every day of Hanukkah aren’t exactly known for altruistic actions. Some rich couple tosses money towards a charity if they name a building after them ,or if they can take a deduction on their taxes, or so others will think well of them, but is the giving better than what they are getting?
Researchers have asked the question and all of the findings from various institutions in various countries have found that people are generally happier if they give money to charity, both short term (at the time of the giving) and long term (if giving becomes a habit) than people who do not give. ( studies by Elizabeth Dunn the University of British Columbia, 2008). Now the research has gone even further. In a study published in the January 2016 journal “Social Science and Medicine” Eric Kim and collaborator, Sara Konrath, found that people who volunteer and help others have better health themselves. But, paradoxically, if you know that volunteering will give you better health so you volunteer for that reason, not for the altruistic reason, then the correlation disappears. Wow!
But Wait! Before you go full circle from “I’d rather receive” to “I’ll give money” to “I’ll volunteer” all the way back to “Never mind, now that I know, it won’t help.” It appears that it is very difficult for people to volunteer for something that really interests them and not become involved in the altruistic nature of the project. Regardless of the original reason for volunteering, if the project confers a genuine sense of purpose, the reciprocal health effects will continue.
Why do we feel good when we give to others of either our time or our money? We don’t unless we feel that what we are doing is helping to make a difference. We are social beings, our day to day lives are full of relationships. And it is the improvement of the quality of our relationships that helps us all. As Maya Angelou said, “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”