Giving?

giving-backA wealthy person donates to the orchestra or art museum he enjoys. It’s a nice donation, but how much is it really accomplishing in terms of the overall well being of the city’s inhabitants? Obviously it has a positive effect, but that money has to trickle down quite a bit to get to those who need it most. It satisfies the legal definition of being a donation, but is in many ways more for his own good than anything. It’s a tax write-off, but more. It makes the donator feel good existentially.

Giving makes us feel good, which is often why we do it even when there may not be any direct benefits to ourselves. It’s largely about us. Consider the difference between an anonymous donation and the one with the donor’s name etched into the marble of the building. One appears more selfless than the other, but that isn’t necessarily the case when you factor in how much of the motivation is really about making oneself feel good.

Giving until it hurts, really hurts, is different. When you make a real and substantial sacrifice to help someone else all of the selfish rationale still applies, but now there’s a degree of altruism in it. Pure altruism is almost unheard of. Many accountings of Jesus and a few other religious leaders would fit the bill, but beyond that there aren’t many examples that can pass the purely selfless test.

We sometimes do good to avoid guilt. That’s a different side of the same coin.

When you recognize that even some of the best and most heroic things you do have a significant element of pleasing yourself as the source of motivation to do them it begins to get easier to balance taking care of yourself against taking care of others.

Take a look at why you really do things. There are scars left from past pleasure and pain. If your road to happiness seems like it’s to mitigate guilt then you need to step back and recognize you are covering something else up. Get to the source of that and deal with it for a chance at real happiness. If you do things for others for any reason (as we all do) beyond just helping them, just be honest with yourself about it. It doesn’t negate the good you did, but don’t try to fool yourself, as that has a way of eating away at or otherwise undoing the good you feel, which often leads to reciprocal actions…and guilt, which leads to…(you get the idea).

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17 Responses to “Giving?”


  1. 1 Vivian December 19, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    When I read your post, I immediately thought of this blog entry that I read recently. http://www.becomingminimalist.com/gratitude-discipline/


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