Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Privilege of Giving Part II

Part I is on the previous post...
The Psychology of Happiness

"I went to a psychologist friend of mine who studies charitable giving. He says there are two reasons for the success of people who donate: (1) giving changes givers and makes them more effective; and (2) giving changings the perception oither people have of givers, and that also makes them more successful. Psychologists have condected experiments showing why people get happier when they give.

Let's go back to Larry Stewart. He said, "I'm so happy, and I'm so happy because I'm a giver." He explained his prosperity in happiness terms. You know, this is really the common denominator of true prosperity in our lives. Let's look at the link that psychologists have explained between giving and happiness.

There's lots of data out there that shows that happier people give more and that people who give more are happier. People who give some amount of money every year are 43 percent more likely than nongivers to say they're very happy people. Volunteering one more time per week will raise your likelihood of saying you're very happy by 50 percent. Blood donors are 50 percent more likely to say they're very happy than people who don't donate blood.

Psychologists have figured this out with experiments. They'll bring in groups of people and ask them, "How happy are you?" They'll hook up electrodes to the participants' brans and see how much they smile. Then they'll have half of the people serve others while the other half does nothing. Afterward, they'll guage their happiness again. Guess who's happier? By a long shot, in every one of these experiments, you'll find that after you serve you get happier.

Giving changes your brain. In 1988 a neuropsychologist by the name of Alan Lukes published an academic paper in which he described a phenomenon he called the 'helper's high,' the level of endorphins in people's brains, the things that made them feel good. Incidentally, these are the same chemicals people experience a lot of when they use drugs and alcohol.

Psychologists have also found that stress hormones are reduced or depressed by charitable giving acts. There's a famous study from five years ago; it's an unusal study that had senior citizens in a clinical experiment massaging infants. Half the senior citizens massaged babies, and the other half didn't. They found that the baby massagers had about half the level of three stress hormones in their brain at the end of the study compared to the others. Those are the three hormones coursing through your brain when you're caught in traffic. There are a lot of studies out there that say that these stress hormones are implicated not just in unhappiness but also in poor health and early death. Giving more will actually reduce your stress hormones.

People who are less stressed-out are more focused on their tasks. They are more likely to have success in their endeavors. One of the things that we find is people get more effective when they do their work with less stress. So, if you consistently have less stress, you're going to be a more successful person for a simple neurological reason.

Secondly, we don't just change our brains when we give--we change the brains of other people when we give.

A year ago at England's University of Kent, economists and psychologists undertook what they call a cooperation game, where you gather a bunch of people and give each person cash. The subjects decide how much of the cash they'll put into a common fund in the middle of the room. Now the best thing for everybody to do is to put in all their money, because the researchers tell them that all the money collected in the common fund will be doubled and divided equally among all participants. But the dominant strategy for people who are selfish is to hold everything back and let the "suckers" put in their money, because then they'll keep all the money given to them and get a good share of the others' too.

In the second phase of this experiment the researchers had the subjects solve puzzles in teams, and they each had to elect a team leader. In 88 percent of the cases, the team leader who was selected was the biggest giver to the common fund.

The researchers realized that charitable giving is a leadership trait people observe in one another. Givers are perceived to be leaders. The bottom line is that giving is good for you, and it actually positions you to be perceived as a leader.

Who's Giving
Ninety-one percent of religious people--people who attend their house of worship every week--give charitable donations. Sixty-six percent of secular people--those who attend a house of worship less than once per year--give charitable donations. In 2000, 67 percent of religious people volunteered, versus 44 percent of secular people. Religious people give away almost four times more money than secular people do. Religious people are 10 percent more likely than secular people to give to nonreligious causes. They are 21 percent more likely to volunteer for totally secular causes.

If it were not for religious people in your community, your PTA and United Way would be out of business. If secular people gave blood like religious people do, the blood supply in America would jump by 30 percent.

Giving makes you healthy, happy, and rich. It makes you a stronger, more prosperous, happier individual. It makes you a better citizen. It makes communities stronger. It makes us a great nation. And that means all of us are needy. We all are in a state of need to give all the time.

Here are two big facts: (1) givers are the big beneficiaries of giving, and (2) religious people are America's big givers. To me, as a Christian, my giving to others is a gift to me from God, and that changes my notion of stewardship radically. Since I am blessed it is my responsibility to give to others and to do so faithfully. I've heard this verse my whole life; "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Luke 12:48). You find this idea in every sacred text. Unto whom much has been granted, much is expected.

My research assistant shared this verse with me from Mosiah 4:21:
And now, if God, who has created, you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.

We understand this, but I want to expand that. If you are blessed to be a giver, it is your responsibility to help other people give. The essence of effective philanthropy is bringing other people into the grace that you enjoy because you're givers. That means you're all amateur fund-raisers.

Giving Myths
Myth number one is that giving makes us poor, because we give money away. This was the misconception that I had because I was stuck being an economist. I had a mechanistic view of life, but life is not mechanistic. Life is more perfect than that. Giving doesn't make us poor; giving makes us richer.

Myth number two is that people are naturally selfish. I hear this all the time. Americans are selfish. Humans are selfish. No, we're not. When we are our best selves, our most natural selves, when we are really acting as if we were made in God's image, we're not selfish. We have evidence that this is our most natural selves because this is when our brains are in tune. This is when we are in equilibrium. This is when we're happiest and healthiest and most prosperous--when we're giving.

Myth number three is that giving is a luxury. It's not; it's a necessity, because we are in need to give. I already told you about the working poor in this country. The working poor have not been convinced that giving is a luxury, because if they thought it was, they wouldn't give. And they give a higher percentage of their income than any other income class.

Myth number four is that our nation can afford to not give. In 2000, presidential candidate Ralph Nader said, "A country that has less need is a country that needs less charity." He meant that if governments met our needs adequately, we wouldn't have to assist in the first place. And on its face, charity is evidence of failure. It's failure of our necessity of helping those who are in need. I'm here to tell you that's wrong, and if we crowd out charitable giving by paying for everything through the state, we're going to pay the price. My data will tell you that we're going to be unhappier, unhealthier, and poorer as a country unless we take responsibility.

Now is there a role for government? That's for all of you as citizens and scholars to decide. I would never say that the government shouldn't do things; that would be irresponsible. What I'm saying is that there will aways be a role for private citizens to take responsibility for providing things that are important. Not just to provide the services but rather to provide the happiness, health, and prosperity that we enjoy as a great country. This is a secret to our success.

My research has really changed my life. You know, one of the great things about being an academic--a tenured professor--is that you get to research things that you find interesting and transformative. When I did this research, it expanded my consciousness about what was going on in my life, and it changed the way I give. It also told me that one of the reasons I'm a happy, healthy, prosperous person is because I live in a nation of givers like yourselves. So, thank you."

I'll comment on this tomorrow after you get a chance to think about it for awhile.

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