More blessed to give

At this time of year our thoughts often turn to giving. Whether we celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or no holiday at all, the spirit of giving is all around us. Salvation Army bells ring. Neighbors bring gifts of holiday treats. Friends and family gather. It is a beautiful season during which, at least for a moment, we look beyond ourselves and see the joy our gifts bring others.

Giving is a basic tenet of all major religions. They hold it as a moral duty and a vital catalyst to greater spiritual awareness. Christian theology teaches "it is more blessed to give than receive(1)" and many devout Christians pay a tithe to their church or other charities. Judaism requires tzedaka, Islam zakat, and Buddhism and Hinduism both call for dana as an important part of fulfilling ones religious duties. Through these acts of selfless giving, millions of believers all over the world have found a greater sense of peace and fulfillment in their lives.

Giving also blesses the giver in more worldly ways. In one of the most comprehensive studies ever conducted on charitable giving in America, Arthur C. Brooks of Syracuse University found a direct, causal connection between a person's charitable giving and that person's economic well-being. Brooks discovered that charitable giving actually increases a person's income. If you want to get into this, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Brooks' very readable book Who Really Cares? The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism.

Establishing the correlation between giving and income is pretty straight forward. We generally expect that people at a higher income level will tend to give more than people at a lower income level. But Brooks was interested in finding a causal link. Does higher income cause people to give more or, contrary to all intuition, does higher giving actually cause people to earn more income?

To his surprise, he found that both occur. Here is how Brooks describes it:

We find that charity pushes up income--but income increases charity as well. Money giving and prosperity exist in positive feedback to each other--a virtuous cycle, you might say. For example, in 2000, controlling for education, age, race, and all the other outside explanations for giving and income increases, a dollar donated to charity was associated with $5.35 in extra income. Of this extra income, $3.75 was due to the dollar given to charity. At the same time, each extra dollar in income stimulated 14 cients in new giving. All told, this is evidence that charity has an excellent return on investment, far better than the return from the vast majority of stocks and bonds.

There are all sorts of potential explanations as to why charitable giving is so good for a person's temporal well-being. Religionists will attribute it to the hand of God. Secularists might look for more worldly reasons. Though I personally line up with the religionists, I don't think it really matters. As with so much in life, if we give more, we tend to get more. Jesus Christ taught his followers almost 2,000 years ago:

Give and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. (2)

It really is more blessed to give.

Give and be blessed this holiday season.