The Psyche of Giving

Avijit Dey, May 2018

The culture of giving is deeply engraved in India’s social consciousness. The concepts of daana (giving) and dakshina (alms) in Hinduism, bhiksha (alms) in Budhhism, and zakaat (prescribed offerings) and sadaqaat (voluntary offerings) in Islam have been a part of Indian culture for many centuries. It was, however, with Buddhism, through the order of monks (sanghas) and later with Christianity, that serving the needy first became an organised institutional concern. The gospel of service was preached through the establishment of schools, hospitals, leper homes, and homes for the aged and the needy.

In 1989, James Andreoni, an Economics Professor from University of California found the theory of “warm-glow giving’’ through which he tries to explain why people give to charity. The “warm-glow givers” are not just motivated solely in the welfare of their recipients. In return of their charitable act, these warm-glow givers receive the utility from the act of giving. This utility is the positive emotional feeling that people get from the act of giving.

Most of us who commit to acts of altruism on behalf of making the world a better place do so because it makes us feel better about ourselves. Something within us doesn’t feel good enough or worthy enough unless we are devoted to helping others. So we go out and help people, and people tell us how we’ve saved their lives, and then we feel more worthy. We matter because we matter to someone else. Then our worried, scared, “never good enough” egos feel better. It is also a part of human nature to feel the impulse to ease the suffering of other living beings. The motive of sharing is also motivated by this pure impulse to ease the pain and suffering of someone who is underprivileged or someone who is missing the bliss of past, present and future.

1. When we do good, it feels good.

It seems obvious, but sometimes the smallest wave is the one that gets you to shore. Not that this reason is small, actually it may be one of the bigger ones on the list. First of all, seeing a smile on a stranger’s face is something that really does make us feel warm inside, that ‘feel good’ factor is a part of helping others that should be embraced. Whatever we do, whether tiny or absolutely life changing, it’s important to remember that we did it and having that feeling, drive and passion for others is some seriously life enriching stuff, we should all try it, at least once.

2. It can help combat anxiety and depression.

Who knew that volunteering our time could help us get a handle on our own state of mind? Becoming a regular volunteer can help build consistent relationships and develop a solid and true understanding of what a healthy support system should feel like, which can heavily reduce anxiety and stress levels. One of the risks with depression is social isolation, and being involved with a local project is a really effective way to tackle personal challenges. Today more than ever is a time when mental health is a huge issue and it’s something that all of us are connected to. Volunteering and helping others can help to combat anxiety and stress. All of us can shout from the rooftops about it.

3. What goes around comes around

This is not rocket science; it is as simple as that- if we provide something valuable to someone (which is our time and effort) then the receiver, person, charity or company will attach that value to us. By doing this enough times, we will see something amazing that starts to happen, it might lead one on a new path, it may help with career progression or personal goals. Nothing on the entire planet trumps intent, and nothing says intent and value quite like helping somebody else achieve their goals.

4. No one ever became poor by giving

Anne Frank was right when she stated that ‘’nobody has become poor by giving’’. The list on ways to give is never a small one – there will always be a mountain of ways taller than Everest. All it takes is an attitude and one can earn the riches that come with kindness. Buy food for someone and talk to someone on the street, learn their name, where they grew up and connect with them, find a local Community Project and volunteer to help out for specific events. Experience, human connection, friendships, achievement and well-being. These are all things that are as important to us as people and our own self. Let us not think of it like we are ‘giving up’ our time, because we are not. Volunteering or just spending time with someone who needs it, is something that can give one so much more than one puts in.  Thinking of it, wouldn’t it be exciting if we take opportunities like that?

5. Meet the unexpected

Let us now delve a little deeper. Meeting people is all part of human nature and we are social creatures designed to be around one another. When one decides to reach out and help out he/ she can find the most amazing things happening to them. For example, that person has a chance of meeting some of the most amazing and unique people. There are billions of people in the world, all from different cultures and backgrounds and the bonds we form can be so strong that they can last a lifetime. The most interesting and strongest of relationships have formed in some pretty unusual ways, volunteering and helping others puts us in the centre stage. We are then in a position to learn about the people we meet and what their world looks like. We learn things you did not know before and become friends with people we did not think we would. The best part of it is that all of it costs nothing.

Helping others is not just good for the people we help but is good for everyone, and probably in more ways than we first thought. By taking small steps, we all can make a difference to the people we cross paths with and that is something which makes life worth living. In my opinion, it is also one of the best way to understand the universe around us and a way to evolve ourselves.


As told to Arya Vatsa

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