Last week, I talked a bit about volunteering, and what one hopes to get out of it by finding the right fit. Part of what we hope to find is that balance where it feels good to give, because giving is good for our health and longevity.
Since ‘Tis the season to ponder the question: Is it really better to give than receive? I’ll share some insights from this article from Psychology Today, which has one of the best answers I’ve found.
Giving really is better than receiving
Does giving to others (vs. the self) promote happiness?
For instance, we often hear the phrase that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) quoted a lot during this time of year. Although holiday gift giving has often become associated with shopping aggravations and as a key indicator of the economy’s general state of health, there is considerable evidence in support of this frequently-cited biblical passage.
According to the article, science and religion both support the idea that giving helps heal the self. One experiment cited in the article was conducted by social scientist Liz Dunn in which she offered students an envelope with money which they could spend on themselves or others.
In some cases, there were 5 dollars in the envelope and in other cases there were 20 dollars. The amount didn’t matter — the results were the same. Spending on others made people happier than spending on oneself. Ironically, when asked to predict which outcome would make one happier (i.e., spending on oneself or spending on others), another group of students at the same university thought spending on themselves would make them happier than spending on others. In short, people’s selfish assumptions were proven wrong when they actually had the opportunity to give to others than to oneself.
The ideals of giving and servant leadership are philosophized across religions as well. As mentioned above, the Holy Bible states “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)
The Dalai Lama goes so far as to suggest that focusing on one’s own needs creates negative emotions that hamper true happiness. And Mahatma Gandhi has said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
The article concludes with this:
And lastly, and to bring things full circle with Christian gospel this holiday season, the value of giving to others was one of the themes reiterated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In arguably his finest sermon, The Drum Major Instinct, King notes that personal greatness and service to others is intertwined. In a world filled with people’s selfish endeavors and nations’ destructive engagement in war and violence, King emphasized that a desire to be the best (i.e., be the drum major) can be transformed from a selfish impulse to an instrument for justice if people adopt service to others as their goal. In King’s poignant words, “Everybody can be great, because everyone can serve.”
There we have it. I encourage you to read the full article for yourself!
Happiest of Holidays to you and yours.