There’s no denying that life in the twenty-first century is demanding. There never seems to be enough time to do all the things that need to be done: keep up with work or studies, spend time with family, earn enough money to pay the rent and buy necessities. With so many challenges to cope with, you may ask yourself, “Why should I expend any effort in giving?” or “I’m already scrambling to deal with all the demands and pressures on me. How will I find time and resources to give more?” or “No one gives to me, so why should I give to others?”
In this chapter we hope to show you that no matter what your circumstances in life, you have the ability to give. As well, giving is good for you. It provides the following benefits:
- It can make a positive difference to others.
- There are emotional, physical, and even financial benefits to you.
- It can help you achieve your full potential.
- It can bring you more meaning, fulfillment, and happiness.
gifts were given to you
Probably the biggest gift you will ever receive is the huge investment your parents made in you. But they are not the only ones who have given to you. During the course of your life you have received many things from other people—teachers, relatives, strangers. Schools and hospitals were built with the hard work and tax dollars of those who preceded you. In fact, almost everything you use in your life has been made by someone else. The peace that you enjoy has been delivered by the sacrifice of others. When you think about it, you know countless people who have made a difference in your life—some negative, some positive. Why not make a decision to have a positive impact on the lives of others, even if they are strangers?
Consider the following statistics:
- One out of every four people in the world is starving.
- As many as 1.5 billion people in the world do not have enough clean water.
- At least 20 million people are suffering the horror of war, imprisonment, and torture.
- Every few seconds a child dies from a preventable disease.
- One-seventh of the world’s population is illiterate.
- In the United States, the world’s richest country, 3 million people are homeless each year.
There are also great needs within your own community. In the face of such need and desperation, you have two choices: you can decide to help others and change lives, or you can decide to do nothing and lose the benefits of giving. But remember, when people come together to tackle a difficult situation, they receive far more than they can ever imagine.
the benefits of giving
What are those benefits of giving? Here are some of the things you can gain by making giving a greater part of your life:
- new relationships
- a feeling of security
- good health
- a sense of empowerment, pride, and accomplishment
- peace and love
The paradox is that when you give expecting a reward, you won’t receive one. When you give with joy, selflessness, and love, you benefit greatly. The attitude you bring to your giving will reflect the benefits you gain. Parents share their shelter, food, and love with their children simply because they love them and not because they seek their love. Ultimately, the rewards are tremendous. Yet if you give money, time, or anything else with an expectation of a return on your investment, you defeat the purpose of giving. This can be a negative lesson: you gave and you didn’t feel any better. This lack of “emotional reward” can lead to not wanting to give. Then you lose, as do those you could be helping.
Psychologists who study babies know that they (like all human beings) crave interaction with other humans. In fact, babies who are not nurtured by their parents or other caregivers wither emotionally from lack of bonding. Many of them never recover.
We believe that this is also true of adults. If adults lack stimulating interaction with others, their souls shrink. Really, it’s only through connecting with other human beings that you learn about the world, about yourself, and even about your destiny. After all, other people are a mirror in which you can see yourself. This interconnection enables you to reach your full potential and to strengthen your soul.
The Trappist monk Thomas Merton once wrote: “Souls are like athletes who need opponents worthy of them if they are to be tried and extended and pushed to the full use of their powers.” That’s an insightful analogy, for just as your muscles weaken without physical exercise, so does your soul weaken without its special kinds of exercise. A great exercise for your soul is the practice of giving. As with physical exercise, the more you do it, the easier it is, and the stronger you will become.
REDUCTION OF FEARS
Giving can also reduce your fears. That’s because giving promotes social connections, which provide you with greater security.
Do you live in fear of economic disaster? Do you worry about caring for your parents or putting your children through college? Do you worry about losing your good health? Do you fear that crime, war, or terrorist attacks will disrupt the economy and your security? These are legitimate concerns that many people share. We live in difficult and uncertain times, but are these fears real?
Research shows that people who watch a lot of news on television overestimate the threats to their well-being. Why? Because television focuses on news that makes the world seem like a more dangerous place than it actually is. Afraid of the world that is portrayed on TV, people “cocoon,” staying in their homes with close family, and do not build bonds with their neighbors. Thus, they become more vulnerable.
The best way to confront your fears is to begin the process of making a difference. The root causes of “dangers” are often the result of social problems that have been ignored. But you can make a commitment to do what you can to eliminate the conditions that cause the potential crises. By facing your fears and working to change their root causes, you overcome them.
Giving is a key part of this process because giving reduces self-centeredness. It can make you feel more connected to others, and this connection will reduce fear and isolation. Author Robert Putnam’s massive research project, which culminated in the book Bowling Alone, clearly demonstrates the benefits to staying connected with others—for security, health, happiness, and even income.
Have you ever heard of a job opportunity through a personal connection? Have you ever had neighbors help you out during a difficult situation? Has a friend ever cared for your child when you were exhausted?
These are just a few of the benefits that occur when you are connected with other people. The list is endless.
Academic research demonstrates that giving to others benefits people physically and emotionally. An article in the May 1988 issue of American Health magazine described a study in Michigan that showed that regular volunteer work increases life expectancy. The study found that men who did no volunteer work were two and a half times more likely to die during the study than men who volunteered at least once a week. The article described other benefits that the researchers measured.
Giving, in the form of volunteer work:
- enhances your immune system,
- lowers cholesterol levels,
- strengthens your heart,
- decreases the incidence of chest pains, and
- generally reduces stress.
The world can be a different and better place if, while you are here, you give of yourself. This concept became clear to Azim one day when he was watching television at an airport terminal while waiting for a flight. A priest was sharing a story about newborn twins, one of whom was ill. The twins were in separate incubators, as per hospital rules. A nurse on the floor repeatedly suggested that the twins be kept together in one incubator. The doctors finally agreed to try this. When the twins were brought into contact with each other, the healthy twin immediately put his arms around his sick brother. This instinctive exchange gradually helped the sick twin to recover and regain his health. The babies’ family and the doctors witnessed the intangible force of love and the incredible power of giving.
LIVING TO YOUR POTENTIAL
Rumi, a thirteenth-century Persian mystic, told of a man who walked past a beggar and asked, “Why, God, do you not do something for these people?” God replied, “I did do something. I made you.”
When Rumi wrote these words, he was addressing our ability to choose what we do, our ability to reach our potential.
Most people use only a tiny portion of their potential, and many never find their true gift or calling in life. They never find a worthwhile cause to support, a cause that really means something to them and makes a difference in their lives.
But when you give to others or give of yourself to meaningful causes, things change. You expect more of yourself. You discover new feelings of self-worth. Indeed, you begin to tap into your true gifts and talents. And when you do that, you can achieve your full potential as you help yourself and others.
Until 1997 Azim was a professional accountant. In 199 he also became head of his community’s social welfare board, where he volunteered twenty to twenty-five hours a week. This work led to an invitation to develop a budget for Focus, a humanitarian agency. He accepted the invitation and went to spend several weeks with Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
While in Pakistan, Azim saw many things that shook his soul. One instance, in particular, was his visit to an Afghan refugee camp, where he heard stories about how the refugees lived through war after war. Fleeing from Afghanistan with only the clothes they wore, a few of them had even seen their fathers being killed in front of their eyes. Some worked fourteen hours a day, making only a dollar a day. Azim met Afghan children who were the same age as his own children. It made him think, “What if my children were in this predicament?” He had heard the statement that we are all interconnected, but for the first time he actually felt what this statement meant. As he was riding back to his hotel in a cab, he sobbed like a baby.
That night he could not sleep. He tossed and turned, asking himself how he could really help these people. Finally, he realized that he would not be able to make a big impact as a professional accountant because he was not passionate about accounting. In this night of grief and pain, he made a decision to pursue his gift of inspirational speaking and writing. That day in the Afghan refugee camp was a life-altering experience for Azim.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “To find yourself, lose yourself in the service of others.” Azim believes that by losing himself in his voluntary work during that trip, he found himself and got closer to achieving his full potential.
maslow’s hierarchy of needs
Some people claim they can’t give because they haven’t yet achieved a certain level of self-actualization. They may be basing their claim on Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. Maslow was a psychologist who studied human motivation, leading him to create a pyramid showing what people need to be fulfilled.
The base of Maslow’s pyramid starts with our core physiological needs: air, water, food, shelter, warmth, sleep, sex, and so on. The second level comprises our security needs: protection from the elements, social order, law, and so on. The third level includes our social needs: love, family, relationships, work group, and so on. The fourth level consists of our ego needs: achievement, reputation, responsibility, independence, prestige, status, and so on.
Maslow originally placed self-actualization needs at the top of his five-stage model. These needs were satisfied through personal growth, self-fulfillment, and the resolution of personal potential. Later models placed self-actualization as a seventh stage (above two new levels: cognitive needs—knowledge, meaning, and self-awareness—and aesthetic needs—beauty, balance, and form). Others have added an eighth and final level: our spiritual needs, achieved through transcendence and helping others to achieve self-actualization. Maslow believed that needs must be satisfied in the order of the levels he described. He felt that only after a level had been reached could an individual begin to work on meeting the next level of needs.
While we believe Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is fundamentally sound, we’ve seen enough positive signs to know that people can aspire to, and meet, some needs above a level they have not fully achieved. For example, it may be that a person struggling at level three (social needs) may discover that through knowledge (level five), he or she can satisfy some of his level three and four social and ego needs.
We also believe that every human being deserves the opportunity to reach self-actualization and to realize his or her potential. Your giving will help you and many other people come closer to their potential.
And, finally, we believe that self-actualization will not happen unless most, if not all, of the lower levels are achieved. Therefore, to reduce violence, promote equality, and increase people’s fulfillment, we believe we should help people to meet their basic physiological and safety needs. With millions of people in the Western world lacking the means to satisfy their basic needs, and more than a billion worldwide living in similar conditions, there is a lot of work to do. As you may know, there is adequate food, water, and resources to support and shelter every human in the world. But the way they are distributed is obviously unequal. When you help others to meet their needs, you increase the likelihood of meeting your own needs.
When you strive to develop Maslow’s self-actualization characteristics (see diagram), you will bring much joy into your life. These characteristics will confer on you more wisdom, stronger relationships, greater compassion, and internal peace. If you achieve self-actualization, you will be able to see situations with more objectivity and clarity. You will see problems as challenges and as growth opportunities. You will not rely on culture and the environment to form your opinions. You will be able to protect your inner values. You will believe in justice. You will be able to embrace and enjoy all races, cultures, faiths, and differences. You will be accepting, understanding, and compassionate. You will be able to laugh at yourself and the human condition. You will seek experiences that are deep, meaningful, and lasting.
We believe that as you become a more generous and thoughtful giver, you will also develop some or all of these gifts.
FINDING MEANING, FULFILLMENT, AND HAPPINESS
All people want to achieve meaning, fulfillment, and happiness. However, thousands of years of human history confirm that these things come not from being self-centered but rather from making a difference and giving happiness to others. Mother Teresa is a famous example. She found fulfillment when she helped change the expression on dying people’s faces from distress and fear to calmness and serenity. By giving herself to others, she made their undeniable pain a little easier to bear.
The Sufi Nasruddin (a Sufi is a Muslim spiritualist and wise person) tells the story of a person who is drowning. People shouted at the man, “Give us your hand so we can save you!” But the man was hesitant. Finally, someone said to the man, “Take my hand,” and the man took it. This man was more familiar with taking than giving. He almost died as a result.
If you find yourself feeling unhappy, try making someone else happy and see what happens. If you are feeling empty and unfulfilled, try doing some meaningful and worthwhile work and see how you feel.
The catch is that you must do this work with passion and enthusiasm. If you are not passionate, it is hard to produce good work. You are less likely to feel fulfilled and happy or to believe your work is meaningful. In the end, you will lose energy for the work, leaving you with poor results.
There is a story of an elderly carpenter who was ready to retire. The carpenter told his employer of his plans to leave the house-building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife, enjoying his extended family. The employer was sorry to see his employee go and asked if he would build just one more house as a personal favor to him. The carpenter reluctantly agreed. He did sloppy work and he used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end a dedicated career.
When the carpenter finished his work, the employer came to inspect the house. Then he handed the front-door key to the carpenter. “This is your house,” he said. “It is my retirement gift to you.” The carpenter was shocked. If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently.
So it is with all people. Every person builds his or her own house, his or her own life, a step at a time, often half-heartedly. Then with a shock they realize they have to live in the house they have built. If they could do it over, they’d do it differently. But they cannot go back.
You are the carpenter; your life is your building project. When you treat others in the way you wish to be treated, you are building with love and care. Always do your best because the choices
you make today build your future.
THE MORE YOU GIVE OF YOURSELF,
THE MORE YOU FIND OF YOURSELF
“A rich life,” writes philosopher and theologian Cornel West, “consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it.” Every one of us can have a rich life if we choose.
If you are wealthy but unable to share your wealth or give of your possessions and knowledge, you are not really rich. Conversely, if you are not wealthy but give of your self, your time, and your knowledge, you are indeed quite rich—and you will receive far more than you can ever imagine.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “There is always enough for the needy but never enough for the greedy.” Have you ever noticed how the needy frequently find a way to be grateful for the very little they have, whereas the greedy never seem to have enough?
If you are worth billions of dollars and have no people or causes to give your money to, what do you do with your money? How many houses can you live in? How many cars can you drive? How many meals can you eat? And even if you indulge in all of these things to excess, what do you do with the rest of your money?
There is a story of a wealthy businessman who never gave anything to anyone. A tenacious fund-raiser approached the man to ask for a gift to a charitable cause, but the man refused to contribute. After much persuasion, the fund-raiser eventually asked the wealthy man to pick up some good dirt from his garden and hand it to him as his gift. Wanting to get rid of the fund-raiser and knowing the dirt was free, the man picked it up and gave it to the fundraiser, who then left. A few days later, the wealthy man, who was now curious, asked the fundraiser why he had asked for the dirt. The fund-raiser explained, “I wanted you to taste the beauty of giving, even though it is only dirt you were giving. Once you taste the beauty of giving something small, you will eventually give something big.”
Of course, it would have helped if the miserly man from our story understood that the more you give, the more you receive. This may sound like a paradox—but it’s true. The more you give of yourself, the more you find of yourself. When you make a positive difference in the lives of others, you make a positive difference in your own life. Giving is a “win-win” proposition.
Author Earl Nightingale tells a story of a man who went to his empty fireplace and said, “Give me heat and I’ll give you the wood.” But giving does not work that way. In fact, giving functions under the universal law of cause and effect. You need to work for the wood before you get the heat. In other words, our rewards will always match and follow our service or, in the words of the Bible, You will always reap what you sow.
“When all is said and done,” says author Og Mandino, “success without happiness is the worst kind of failure.”
How can you find that happiness? It all comes back to giving. If you want to have happiness, you need to give happiness. If you want wealth, you need to give wealth. If you want love, you need to give love. For it is only in giving that you receive. Giving enriches your life with meaning, fulfillment, and happiness. It allows you to unleash your potential and create breakthroughs. In fact, it is a privilege to give. So give of your time, your knowledge, your wisdom, your wealth, and your love—and experience
the power and beauty of giving.
giving is a beautiful experience
We want to end this chapter with two stories about the beauty of giving.
A kindly stranger had a profound effect on Azim’s cousin Salim when he was in the hospital a few years ago. Salim was both sick and depressed when one day a woman he didn’t know visited him. She noticed that the flowers in his room were unkempt and asked Salim, “Do you mind if I fix the flowers for you?” He said, “Of course not.” She came back with the flowers, beautifully rearranged. Then she made him a cup of tea. Her actions touched his heart, and Salim started to come out of his doldrums. The two of them became friends.
Not long after, the woman’s husband died, and Salim was able to comfort her. Their friendship has been a pillar of support for each of them, but it was only after she gave freely that Salim was moved to give back freely to her too.
The second story also takes place in a hospital. Each holiday season you can see thousands and thousands of paper doves hanging suspended in the atrium of Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital, one of the world’s leading cancer research centers. It’s a magical sight. The dove is a symbol of hope. Each dove honors a person lost to cancer or living with cancer, or a special person who helped someone with his or her battle against cancer.
Caroline van Nostrand, who works for the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation, organizes the Dove fund-raising campaign. Two years ago, during the Dove dedication ceremony, a man named David approached Caroline as she was standing in the atrium. David told her that he had dedicated a dove in memory of his wife, Nancy, who died of cancer. He told Caroline he was touched by the holiday season campaign, and he asked her if he could have his dove returned to him—to remember the event and the spirit of his contribution. Her eyes filled with tears when David told her about his wife. But she also felt it would be impossible to find Nancy’s dove amid the thousands of others in the atrium. She told David she would try but warned him that he would likely have to wait until all the doves were taken down.
About fifteen minutes later, David approached Caroline again and told her that since Nancy had died, he had felt her presence in his daily life. He told Caroline that he still talked to her and sought her counsel from time to time. On this particular afternoon, he stood in the middle of the atrium and asked silently, “Nancy, where’s our dove?” To Caroline’s amazement, less than thirty seconds later—and from among more than forty-five hundred doves—he found Nancy’s. David said that his wife had led him right to it.
Caroline says, “It’s stories like this that make my work here so rewarding. Stories like these that make our doves so important for people living with cancer.”
At the core of all giving is compassion and love—and it grows when you become a better giver.
Ask yourself: When I give, how do I feel? Do I feel energized, happy, and fulfilled? Or do I feel deprived, shortchanged, and less well off? What are my past experiences with giving? Were they happy or sad? What has been my best experience of giving? What has been my worst experience of giving?
Your responses to the questions above will give you some clarity about how you feel about giving. We hope that by reading this chapter you’ll be encouraged to continue to give irrespective of your past experiences.
There is much sadness in the world, but there are also unlimited ways to make a positive difference.
You can gain tremendous benefits from giving. Among these benefits are new friends, a feeling of security, better health, happiness, and a sense of pride. You are at your best when you make a difference and contribute.
Passion for a worthwhile cause helps you tap into your creativity.
You need only so much as an individual to be happy. Therefore, to live to your potential and create abundance, you need to do something larger than yourself—thus the need to give.
You are a conduit—the more you allow giving to flow through you, the more abundance flows back into your life. The more you give, the more you receive.
Giving is a beautiful experience.