This past Tuesday was #GivingTuesday, a day where the spotlight is focused on giving to charity. The day was the brainchild of the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact in NYC and has become a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Since its founding in 2012, #GivingTuesday has become a movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy with events, resources, and fundraising efforts.
Those of you who know me well are aware of my passion for nonprofits and giving back. For over 30 years, I worked in the nonprofit field and have volunteered at and donated to other charitable causes throughout my life. It’s not really that surprising as this trait seems to run in the family. My sister, sister-in-law, and niece-in-law all work for nonprofits, and my parents and brother were — and still are in the case of my father and brother — involved in various charitable endeavors.
My charity of choice, as many can tell given my constant fundraising bombardment on Facebook, Twitter, and this blog last week, is God’s Love We Deliver. Although there will be a pitch in my email update, that cause is not the reason for this post, nor is it to tout my goodness as a charitable guy. Trust me — I have PLENTY of flaws.
My intention is to write about the power of giving and the impact it has, not only on those on the receiving end, but also those who give freely of themselves. And I’m writing about impact beyond tax deductions or getting your name on a plaque above a urinal (I’ve seen it!) or in a list of donors in an annual report.
In my coaching curriculum, there’s a session dedicated to feelings of lack and the various techniques you can use to overcome that situation. One surefire way is to focus on generosity (and gratefulness, for that matter) and become a bigger giver. It all ties into the belief that there is a law of circulation in the Universe, where the law of receiving is activated through giving. Essentially, if you are aligned with the generosity of the Universe, you are open to the flow and experience of ideas, resources in all forms, circumstances, and people.
But if the “Power of the Universe” philosophy isn’t really your “thing,” then let me highlight some scientific data that illuminates the evidence of the power of giving:
Giving and Happiness
There has been a great deal of research on the topic of giving and generosity and the findings will show you that giving makes you far happier than receiving. In a funny and ironic way, you can say that you are being both self-centered and unselfish when you are a giving and generous person.
A study conducted at the Harvard Business School questioned 632 people about their income levels and how they spent that money. They were also asked about their own levels of happiness. Regardless of income, those who were generous and giving reported enhanced mood, amplified sense of purpose, and higher levels of happiness than those who didn’t give and spent their money on themselves.
In an article on the mercola.com site, I found another fascinating study that was conducted by a research team from the University of Zurich in Switzerland. In the study, researchers looked at brain activity in regions associated with behavior, generosity, happiness, and decision-making. Fifty people were divided into groups and either spent money on others or themselves. Over a four week period, MRI scans measured brain activity in those regions.
“The scans…revealed that people who agreed to spend money on others made more generous choices as well as had stronger increases in self-reported happiness and more interactions in brain regions linked to altruism and happiness compared to those who agreed to spend money on themselves. What's more, the amount of money involved was not important. Happiness increased whether the participants planned to give away a little bit of money or a lot.”
Giving and Your Health
A study by social psychologist Liz Dunn linked being ungenerous with higher levels of cortisol — the dreaded stress hormone — which, according to one TV commercial, causes extreme belly fat. In any event, the study examined cortisol levels in those who gave away more money, and those who decided to keep more money for themselves. The research found that participants who kept more money for themselves experienced feelings of shame. And correspondingly, the more money they kept, the more shame they felt. This “shame feeling” led to much higher levels of cortisol than in those who gave their money freely. Cortisol and chronic high levels of stress have been linked to a number of serious health issues and problems — even beyond belly fat.
Recently, the New Republic published an article on one of the most comprehensive five-year studies ever conducted on generosity, the Science of Generosity Initiative at Notre Dame — which resulted in the publication of The Paradox of Generosity, by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson. One highlight of many findings discovered lower depression rates among participants who donated more than 10 percent of their income.
There are many ways of giving beyond money. Volunteering, spending time with someone who needs a boost, sharing your expertise, donating personal belongings or services, or just being a kind open person. So, it’s not surprising that participants in the aforementioned study who were very giving, hospitable, and emotionally available in their relationships — and that’s relationships of every kind — were almost 20 percent more likely to be in excellent health than those who were not.
Giving and Success
And before research burnout comes a-calling, the final study I will cite today comes from a Huffington Post article, 7 Science-Backed Reasons Why Generosity Is Good For Your Health, By Amanda L. Chan. She wrote, “Generosity trumps selfishness when it comes to success in the long run,” This is according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“University of Pennsylvania researchers found that in a strategic game involving multiple people being generous — where there is cooperation and everyone benefits from working together — led to more success than being selfish — where one person dominates the other, forcing them to receive a lower payoff.” Basically, the findings suggest that if all the players are equally generous, the benefit is shared by each participant. A number of similar studies back up this finding, which you can research on your own.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but as the old saying goes, the high tide does raise all boats. Or in the sage words of Orison Swett Marden, “We must give more in order to get more. It is the generous giving of ourselves that produces the generous harvest.”
Whatever you take away from this post, I hope it encourages you to give in every possible way that you can. It doesn’t matter how or how much, just be generous and giving. I, for one, can attest to the power of giving and the great benefits it provides. And that’s what I wish for you.
And just like I celebrate everyone’s birthday — as a birthweek — I officially declare this week, #GivingWeek.
Now, go out and be generous!
Cooking for Joan
This dessert is an old favorite of mine that I’ve served at numerous dinner parties. The combination of textures — smooth and crunchy — with the perfectly matched flavors of coffee and brandy truly elevates this dessert to a 5-star level!
To avoid that awkward broiling process, i finally bought myself a kitchen torch, which has been a godsend. Not only is it useful for the brûlée, it’s perfect for melting cheese, caramelizing meat, blistering tomatoes, charring bell peppers, glazing ham or a pork roast, searing fish, and, of course, S’Mores!
Tip: Bake the custards a day ahead so that they chill fully before the topping is broiled.
Coffee-Brandy Crème Brûlée
Prep Time: 15 min | Cook Time: 40 min (+5 hours chilling time) | Makes: 6 | Difficulty: Easy
- 2 cups whipping cream
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons instant coffee crystals
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon brandy
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Arrange six 3/4-cup ramekins or custard cups in 13 x 9 x 2-inch metal baking pan.
Combine cream and 1/4 cup sugar in heavy medium saucepan; bring almost to simmer, stirring until sugar dissolves.
Remove from heat; add coffee and whisk to dissolve.
Whisk egg yolks in medium bowl to blend.
Gradually whisk in warm cream mixture, then brandy and vanilla.
Strain custard into 4-cup measuring cup; pour into ramekins, dividing equally.
Pour enough hot water into pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins.
Bake custards until center moves only slightly when pan is gently shaken, about 35 minutes.
Remove custards from pan.
Chill until cold, at least 3 hours, then cover and keep chilled overnight.
Preheat broiler (or get out your handy kitchen torch)
Arrange custards on baking sheet.
Press 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar through strainer onto each custard, forming even layer.
Broil 6 inches from heat source until sugar melts, bubbles and caramelizes, watching carefully and rotating sheet for even browning, about 4 minutes.
Refrigerate custards until sugar topping hardens, at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours before serving.
Image Courtesy of ImageZoo/Corbis