The Declaration of Independence ensures that we are all endowed with “certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The founding fathers affirm that it is our right to pursue happiness, but how we achieve that is up to us.
The pandemic forced a screeching halt to so many aspects of our lives. And as disruptive as that was, it also gave us the time and freedom to ask ourselves, “Am I truly happy?” This pause gave us permission to redefine what is important in our lives and offered us a chance to make a personal investment in our own happiness.
Scientific research and generations of history prove over and over again that a guaranteed way to personal happiness comes from making others happy. Whether you are volunteering at a food bank, buying holiday gifts for kids in foster care or making a financial contribution to a worthwhile cause that’s important to you, giving your time, talents and treasures (money) is a surefire way to achieve happiness. While it may seem counterintuitive that donating money rather than spending it on yourself could lead to happiness, the fact is that we gain perspective by stepping into another person’s world for a moment. In doing so, our own personal challenges and problems may not seem so overwhelming when compared to others’ circumstances.
Throughout the year, and most especially at the holidays, many worthy local, national and international charitable organizations send numerous requests for monetary support. While there are financially pragmatic reasons for charitable giving, the emotional and spiritual advantages far outweigh these short-term benefits, and in fact, can lead to a lifelong pursuit of happiness.
Giving makes you feel great.
We all know how good it feels to receive gifts. But that sense of happiness can often be short-lived. However, giving a part of yourself to and for others creates long-lasting, lifetime feelings of higher purpose. Giving provides intrinsic value that is much higher than the amount of the gift itself. Experiencing this type of inner joy truly nourishes our souls, not to mention improving our long-term health and wellbeing.
Giving allows you to assess your personal priorities.
One of the best investments we can make in ourselves is to create a personal doctrine that aligns our own values to our charitable giving. Take time to ask yourself what your aspirational goals are for your community. Your personal investment in these priorities can bring these goals to life. Let your philanthropy and volunteerism mirror who you are. The power to improve the world is a privilege, but also comes with a sense of responsibility. This responsibility is an inspiring way to reinforce your own values and social conscience.
Giving encourages others to do the same.
Giving to charity and sharing your actions with others makes a powerful statement. Others watch what we do, especially our children. Young minds are naturally generous and helpful. Parents have a unique opportunity to engage their children early in supporting the greater community. Generosity creates long-lasting gratitude and kindness. This positive impact allows us to be role models for others in our lives, spreading happiness with no expectations in return.
If you find yourself unhappy, down or just a bit off-kilter, try making someone else’s day and see how that changes your mindset. If you are feeling unfulfilled, try doing some meaningful work to see if you get a lift.
We can all realize the endless and priceless benefits of giving if we take the time to invest in our happiness. If you want to live happy, give happily. If you want to spread joy, give joyfully. And together we can fully experience the pursuit of happiness. JN
Gail Baer is the vice president of philanthropic services for Jewish Family & Children’s Service.