The joy of giving
In his excellent book, The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm wrote: “Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness”. The “thing” that we give to, whether it is a community, a charity, another person or, indeed, any living or non-living entity, can be source of inspiration; in this “thing” we can see our own strength and through it we can truly feel alive.
This is not just about spending money on others; the giving of time and care can be equally as important. Indeed, the act of caring has been found to increase levels of well-being and decrease the symptoms of depression.
The giving of time is also invaluable; I was reminded of this and humbled recently by a charity football tournament that my good friend Gary recently arranged for the mental health charity MIND. People of all ages and abilities gave up their time to participate in a 24-hour indoor football tournament. I played for 6 hours (my legs are still screaming at me) whilst Gary himself played for the whole 24. Ridiculous. Alongside the players, many of who had never kicked a ball before, were an army of friends, family and work colleagues who offered kind words, a hug when required and a bacon sandwich to the players as they finished their hour-long stints. At the time of writing, Gary has raised over £3000. Truly inspiring.
Most people are aware that we are born with a survival instinct. Not many know that we are also imbued with the instinct of altruism. This makes us experience joy in helping others and in contributing to their survival and overall wellbeing. It has been posited that the altruistic instinct emerged from the survival instinct; our ancestors hunted as groups, built homes as groups and escaped from enemies as groups. The key here was collaboration and in order to collaborate they had to help one another. This holds true today.
When we do kind things, when we give and even when we hear about others’ kindness/acts of giving, we also feel happier and more positive; we are programmed to be inspired by hearing about and experiencing giving.
So why else do we give? When I ask people this, some common answers that come to the fore are: it makes me feel good about myself; there are others who have a need, and I am able to give; I want to share; it’s the right thing to do, or sometimes a combination of all of these. I usually follow up with, “How did the act of giving make you feel? The most common feelings expressed are those of pleasure, happiness, contentment and belonging.
From personal experience, I’ve found that when you focus on giving to others you’re less likely to be consumed and/or overwhelmed by personal concerns and challenges. The act of giving provides an opportunity to look beyond ourselves and to see the bigger picture. New perspectives can be found when you step out of your own world and venture into others; worries and challenges may not seem as significant when compared to other people’s.
The act of giving is a wonderful, low-cost, investment that you can make towards achieving happiness; A famous Chinese proverb says: “If you always give, you will always have.”
If you find yourself unhappy or in a rut, try giving something, anything to another person in an effort to make them happy. This could be a donation of money, taking the time to listen to them, generous physical contact such as hugging or even just spending time in their company; make someone else happy and see what happens. Likewise, if you’re feeling empty and/or unfulfilled, try doing some meaningful work and see how you feel. Reflect on this and see what effect the simple act of giving has.
When we give, we experience the joy of seeing a smile, hearing laughter and a general gratitude for life. I think we all know, deep down perhaps, that if everyone just gave a little more; whether it be their time, skills, knowledge, wisdom, compassion, wealth, love, or all of the above—the world would be a more peaceful, happier and healthier place.
I encourage everyone (myself included) to look for opportunities to give and help others. The gift of joy will come when we give ourselves to others. That’s what life is all about. One way I make sure I do this is by, at the start of the week, taking some time (usually no longer than 5 or 10 minutes) to consider how and when I want to give this week. This could be taking the time to call an old friend who I haven’t spoken to in a while, taking a bag of donated goods to a charity or offering a compliment to a work colleague. It really is that simple. Give it a try and see how you feel.
Thanks for reading.
PS. If you’d like to donate to Gary’s frankly insane charity fundraiser, you can find more details here: