The following is an article in the Pay It Forward column published in the Homer News. This column is sponsored by the Homer Foundation, a community foundation promoting local philanthropy since 1991. To learn more please visit us @ www.homerfoundation.org and like us on Facebook.
“Make someone happy. Make just one someone happy. And then you’ll be happy, too.” Those are the lyrics of a long ago 60s song by Jimmy Durante that gave me pause. When we give to a non-profit organization, we are making someone happy! We are usually making a lot of people happy. But even better, we’re making ourselves happy, too. Really!
Some feel that giving is an obligation. However, what they may not realize is that by giving, even if it’s because they feel it’s the responsible thing to do, they still are enhancing their own well-being along with those they are helping. When I take my dog for a walk, I do it because I know that he needs the exercise. It’s my responsibility. I also know it makes him very happy. And I want a happy dog. But I benefit from the walk as well: I get exercise that is healthy for me, and I get a tired dog that is good for everyone. (Those who have dogs will know what I mean!)
Does it matter why someone does a good deed, an act of kindness? Does it make a difference what their motivation might be? Some researchers would say the greatest benefit comes from genuine care and selflessness or pure altruism. Others would say that whatever the motivation, both giver and receiver benefit. For example: I’m dutifully walking my dog for half an hour so I will get some peace and quiet to finish my work. I’m undertaking this obligation, not because I love my dog, (even though I do) or that I know it will make him happy, but only out of self-interest. Does the dog benefit any less? He is still a happy dog and he gets good exercise. And I get to focus on my work. When we generously give to an organization at the end of the year because it’s a great tax write-off, does that reason diminish the gift in any way? The organization benefits and the community benefits as well. Do you feel good? Probably so! Whatever your reason for giving, our community says, “Thank you!”
Psychologists who study altruism have found that there is a relationship between giving and a general feeling of well-being or even happiness. Giving is good for those on the receiving end and it’s good for the well-being of the giver. Generosity has been found to lower blood pressure, enhance your sleep, and increase your feeling of happiness. Another surprise: Being generous with one’s time or resources early in life say, starting in high school, is a predictor of good physical and mental health much later in life. Good deeds foster more good deeds: if I see or know of someone doing a good deed, it makes it more likely that I will do a good deed in turn. Giving pays off in myriad ways!
This community has a reputation for its generosity. Perhaps knowing that makes it more likely that others in our community will be generous as well. I know, or know of, dozens and dozens of very generous people who are invested in supporting our community. Generosity benefits everyone: the giver, the receiver and the community itself. As a result of your generosity, you are happier and healthier in mind and body. And the community is healthier and hopefully happier in its ability to provide for those who make their home here.
Whether you donate your time or your resources, make someone happy! Make just one someone happy, and then you’ll be happy, too!
Chris Theno is a board member of the Homer Foundation and has lived in Homer for seven years. She is a retired associate professor of education and philosophy who loves to fill her days with family (including the dog), friends, books, enjoying the outdoors and traveling. She is hopeful and looking forward to being more socially engaged as the pandemic wanes.