Can you do good, feel good, and still be good?

More to Generosity than Meets the Eye

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Philanthropy and altruism are often displayed to be one-sided, and can even be purely transactional. People ask you for donations; you say yes or no, and ultimately it is nothing more than pulling a few dollars out of your pocket which you will never see again, or signing your name on a petition you won’t care to check up on. Or you can donate your time by volunteering. The biggest misconception here, however, is that this is a waste of time, and does nothing for you personally. But, generosity doesn’t just benefit those you are giving to, there are many benefits you can experience personally, such as lower stress levels and higher dopamine levels!

This is great but it does bring up an important question; is there such a thing as a selfless good act? Is it considered selfless if you feel good or get a tax break, afterwards? And if so, does this diminish the concept of generosity and philanthropy?

Not JUST a Selfless Act

While there are many reasons we may hear that it is good to donate either our time or money, it’s hardly thought of as a way to de-stress or a form of giving back to ourselves. We can jump at the idea of relaxing in a spa, or a trip with friends, but what about a trip to the soup kitchen instead? According to a survey released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2016, about 25% of Americans volunteer, with the 45-55 age group taking the lead. Likely because this demographic is significantly more experienced, softened and more empathetic, and often wealthier than younger crowds.

It’s easy to see volunteering as something we feel like we have to do because of social or individual pressures we place on ourselves. (In fact, it’s not very common to participate in charity or non-profits for fun, or as a way to feel better.) In this study from the Greater Good Society a research division of the University of California Berkeley, we see a wide range of benefits from choosing a more altruistic lifestyle. It’s been proven to boost your immune system, help with stress, and even combat feelings of depression and self-depreciation. When we volunteer our time and donate our money, there is plenty of research indicating it is linked to an increased release of ‘feel-good chemicals’ or dopamine. It also serves as a good distraction from the stress of daily life, and our own intrusive, critical thoughts, hence the link to battling feelings of depression and isolation.

If you don’t have the time to volunteer, not to fear! Donating is just as important as volunteering in supporting non-profits and providing those ‘feel good chemicals’; but of course, it’s not totally the same. Because there is no direct human contact in donating (as there is in volunteering), there’s little reciprocation. But, it’s not based on the idea that we take part in giving back and donating with the expectation of some kind of reciprocity (aka getting that tax break). It’s easy for people to get hung up on the idea that they will be given something in return that will make their charitable act less charitable. And those who have truly dedicated themselves to altruism then have a hard time accepting anything in return. For whatever reason, people find it difficult to accept any generosity after being on the giving end for so long, because they believe it will undermine the good work they have done. This is actually an important part of our mission at Bear Givers, we strive to teach those who are generally on the receiving end of charity the importance of giving back, and giving them that feel good experience that they may never have.

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Organic Altruism

While there are many reasons we feel we may have an incentive to give back and participate in charity or donate to a nonprofit, there is no doubt that we do so because we know we get some kind of benefit. So yes, this could be argued to defeat the purpose of doing good for the sole purpose of doing good for others-- but we shouldn’t allow that to stop us from giving back or diminish any good that we do. Just because your body naturally releases those feel good chemicals when you’re being generous doesn’t mean you should no longer be generous. We can’t stop our brains from this response. And despite the second hand benefits, the principal incentive which is to help others, is not wrong nor mal-intentioned. But what do you think? Do the benefits you (as a giver) receive undermine your good intentions when you give back? Let us know!