Give: The Context
In this article, a definitive look at what philosophers, theologians, psychologists, and scientists throughout history have thought regarding the value of being charitable to others, particularly the less fortunate, and the impact of charitable behavior on the quality of your life and well-being.
The Universal Importance of Giving
Giving and altruism has been shown to be a fundamental behavior in our ancestors. In a study from 2012, research on the behavior of brown capuchin monkeys “found one monkey willing to do another favors if the first monkey was the only one to choose, and we found the monkeys became even more prosocial if they could alternate and help each other. We did not find any evidence that the monkeys paid close attention to each other's past choices, so they were prosocial regardless of what their partner had just done.”
The impact on happiness in humans has also been researched. Research showed increased happiness being experienced as a result of prosocial behavior across rich and poor countries, that the recollection of past prosocial behavior has a causal impact on happiness, and buying items for charity had a higher positive effect than when people bought items for themselves, even when this prosocial spending did not provide an opportunity to build or strengthen social ties.”
What Happens to Our Bodies When We Give?
Research has not only found increased happiness in primates, children and adults through prosocial behavior, but has also found physiological positive effects from giving.
Reward areas of the brain are activated when people give to charity.4 Conversely, exercising the choice not to give can increase cortisol levels in the body, a stress hormone that has been linked to a variety of health problems.
In older test subjects, those who gave over long periods of time showed better overall health, including fewer sleep disorders and better hearing. Other subject also showed greater physical strength!
Conditions In Which Giving Has the Largest Positive Impact
Research has shown three primary elements contribute to positive impacts on happiness through giving. Taken together, this research suggests that the emotional benefits of prosocial spending are likely to be greatest when giving satisfies the needs for relatedness, competence, and autonomy.4 These align with Self Determination Theory which seeks to explain the motivation of individuals and the effects of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
Part of the benefit of the journey you’re on is that you are not receiving a reward for the work you do. The mantras you receive as well as the daily practices you are recommended are entirely up to you to implement into your lives. This lies at the core of the Bodhi Band journey. The program is simply a guide, not a reward or directive. As such the positive feelings you experience by completing the program and living up to your full potential will be that much greater!
Exposure to Simple Acts of Kindness Can Have a Large Impact
The simple act of being exposed to kindness media has shown to result in not only feelings of happiness but also increased generosity. In a recent study published in January 2021, exposure to kindness media in a pediatric ward (targeting parents and staff) increased feelings of happiness, calm, gratitude and optimism. It also resulted in decreases in feelings of irritability and anxiousness. They also showed higher rates of generosity when given the opportunity to donate their reward for participating in the study.
Modern Philosophy, Psychology, & Science
Modern science and psychology suggest that charitable behavior can have significant benefits for both the giver and the recipient. Studies have shown that acts of giving can promote positive emotions, reduce stress, and enhance overall well-being. Additionally, charitable behavior has been linked to increased social connectedness and greater life satisfaction. Moreover, research indicates that generosity and kindness can have a positive impact on physical health, including reducing inflammation and enhancing immune function.
In modern philosophy, the value of being charitable to others is often framed in terms of ethical theories, such as consequentialism or utilitarianism, which emphasize the importance of promoting the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Charitable behavior is also seen as a way to promote social justice and to address inequalities in society. Additionally, modern psychology suggests that acts of giving can promote personal well-being by promoting positive emotions and fostering a sense of purpose and connection with others.
Axial Philosophies Overall
The Axial Philosophies, which emerged in the period between 800 and 200 BCE, emphasized the importance of being charitable to others, especially the less fortunate. These philosophies believed that acts of compassion and generosity were essential for achieving personal fulfillment and happiness, as well as for creating a more just and harmonious society. For example, Confucianism stressed the importance of benevolence, while Buddhism emphasized the value of compassion and the practice of giving. These teachings suggest that charitable behavior can enhance one's well-being and contribute to the betterment of society.
Confucianism & Daoism
Confucianism and Daoism, two of the Axial Philosophies, both emphasized the value of being charitable to others, especially those in need. Confucianism promoted the virtue of benevolence or "ren" which involves treating others with kindness, compassion, and respect. Daoism, on the other hand, emphasized the importance of humility and selflessness, and the need to act in harmony with nature and the world around us. Both traditions believed that charitable behavior was essential for personal well-being and the development of a just and harmonious society.
Hinduism & Buddhism
In Hinduism, charitable giving or "dana" is considered a crucial aspect of spiritual practice, as it is believed to help individuals accumulate good karma and reduce negative karma. The act of giving is seen as a way to express gratitude for the blessings received in life and to fulfill one's duty to help those in need. Charitable behavior is also believed to promote personal growth and spiritual advancement, as it helps individuals develop compassion, generosity, and detachment from material possessions.
Buddhism also refers to the practice of giving as "dana." It is considered one of the most important virtues, as it promotes the development of compassion and generosity, and helps individuals cultivate positive qualities such as selflessness, humility, and detachment. Charitable behavior is also believed to help individuals accumulate good karma, which can lead to better rebirths and ultimately, liberation from suffering. The act of giving is seen as a way to express gratitude for the blessings received in life and to fulfill one's duty to help those in need.
Traditional Western Philosophy & Stoics
Traditional Western philosophy, including the Stoics, emphasized the value of being charitable to others, especially those in need. The Stoics believed that it was important to help others as a way of fulfilling one's duty to society and to the natural order. They also believed that charitable behavior was essential for personal growth and fulfillment, as it helped individuals cultivate virtues such as compassion, kindness, and generosity. Furthermore, the Stoics believed that helping others was a way to overcome negative emotions and achieve inner peace and tranquility.
Christianity, Judaism, Islam
Christianity places a high value on being charitable to others, particularly the less fortunate, as it is seen as a way to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and to fulfill one's duty to love one's neighbor as oneself. Charitable behavior is also seen as a way to express gratitude for the blessings received from God and to promote social justice and equality. In addition, the act of giving is believed to promote personal growth and spiritual development, as it helps individuals cultivate virtues such as compassion, generosity, and humility.
Both Judaism and Christianity place a high value on being charitable to others, particularly the less fortunate, as a way to fulfill one's duty to help those in need and to promote social justice and equality. However, while Christianity emphasizes the importance of loving one's neighbor as oneself, Judaism places greater emphasis on the concept of "tzedakah," which includes charitable giving as well as broader concepts of social responsibility and justice. In Jewish tradition, the act of giving is also seen as a way to benefit the giver by bringing joy and fulfillment to their life.
Islam places a strong emphasis on being charitable to others, particularly the less fortunate, through the practice of "zakat," which involves giving a portion of one's wealth to those in need. Like Christianity and Judaism, charitable behavior is seen as a way to fulfill one's duty to help others and to promote social justice and equality. However, while Christianity and Judaism place greater emphasis on voluntary giving, zakat is seen as a mandatory obligation for Muslims. Additionally, Islamic teachings emphasize the importance of humility and avoiding excessive displays of wealth or power.
Finding the right charity or organization to donate your time and resources to can be a daunting task. Here is an interesting article by Michal Ann Strahilevitz Ph.D. that can help guide you on an approach to selecting a charity. Charitable Giving Guide: Maximize Both Happiness and Impact | Psychology Today6
For more detailed information on charities, Charity Navigator - Your Guide To Intelligent Giving | Home7 provides immense resources for evaluating organizations to help you find the best organizations for you to support.
We also recommending watching the 16-minute Ted Talk The Happy Planet Index.
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