If giving makes people happy, and happy people give more, one means of increasing generosity is simply to inform people of this sphere, making a rational appeal that self-interested giving can lead to higher well-being, writes Befikadu Eba.
I had been taking a walk that night in downtown Addis, somewhere in the neighborhood of Sarbet with three other friends, and we were trekking towards a mall nearby. A common friend of ours who joined us late was attending a wedding earlier that day and was a bit drunk. I am not sure why, but whenever he is drunk, this friend of ours feels the need to be nicer. Maybe, I suppose, it is an attempt to soothe his conscience after abusing his liver. That is why, when a random guy in a dark blue hoodie asked if he could spare some cash, he did not ignore him like any other day nor did he ‘interrogate’ him on the purpose as the guy was seemingly drunk.
I often hear people getting into this state of being nice whenever they are chewing khat, or drinking or under the influence of drugs. Our friend’s unlikely generosity sparked a dialogue among us. Should we be in some “artificial” state to be nice, to give to the disadvantaged? Aren’t we created to be benevolent on our own? Shouldn’t we be compassionate all the time?
Helping others takes various forms, from giving a penny to a beggar to helping a lost stranger get to his destined location, and ranges from an equally varied motivations, from inherent kindness to a more calculated desire for recognition.
Debates on whether prosocial behavior boosts well-being dates as far back as the times of Aristotle where he maintained the goal of life as to achieve “eudaemonia,” which approximates to contemporary notions of happiness. According to Aristotle, eudaemonia is more than just a pleasurable hedonic experience; it is a state in which an individual experiences happiness from the successful performance of their moral duties.
The benefits of giving to others are numerous and most are fairly obvious. Sharing with others, when you have abundance, is a centuries old act of human kindness. This unselfish regard for the welfare of others—altruism—is also a virtue in nearly all religions and cultures.
Let us be honest, when is the last time we actually took a few minutes to give a helping hand to someone in need? I’m talking about charitable acts of kindness with no thought of what you might receive in return.
If you find yourself with a few pennies in your pockets, pennies which are sometimes more of an inconvenience than anything else, why should you not give them to those who are asking for them? Those pennies might mean relatively little to the reasonably well off, but they could make a great deal of difference to the disadvantaged. It is a simple matter of weighing happiness. The happiness those pennies would cause to a poor person is a lot more than what those pennies would give to a reasonably well-off person’s pocket.
Working within the city limits, I run across beggars quite often. To beg is extremely demeaning, not to mention that of living in the streets and having nowhere to go. People must be in extreme poverty in order to resort to such measures. Yes, there are concerns about whether they really are poor, but if a person resorts to such methods to gain pennies each day, surely he/she needs help, just as much, if not more than those who have no choice but to be on the streets.
Some people do go to great lengths, to pay for a meal, or to give cents to a beggar. They want to make sure the money is used “properly” but this is not always practical and goes beyond the essence – which is simply to give. Some others reiterate that the acts of others are not our responsibility and hence the act of charity is ours to answer for and the act of spending falls under the receiver’s accountability.
There is a Chinese saying that goes: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” For years and years, greatest thinkers have suggested the same thing – happiness is found in helping others.
As a friend of ours was ‘motivated’ to “give” with his drunken state of being, so are most of us being lured by lottery prizes these days. Some fundraising campaigns are threatening to challenge people from pursuing happiness through giving, volunteering and donating. More and more calls for charitable acts are being associated with lottery prizes. I have a feeling these practices would, in the long-term, drain societal prescriptions of what one should do to be a moral person. Uri Gneezy and Aldo Rustichini in their article “A Fine is a Price”, which was published in the Journal of Legal Studies in 2000 ironically demonstrated in a different context that when social markets are made economic, it might be difficult to change them back. The result? We might not be involved in charitable acts for free anymore – raising concerns on redefining charity itself.
If giving makes people happy, and happy people give more, I suggest, one means of increasing generosity is simply to inform people of this sphere, making a rational appeal that self-interested giving can lead to higher well-being. Advertising these emotional benefits of prosocial behavior, rather than the lottery prizes, may leave these benefits intact and might even encourage individuals to give more. Hence, the cyclic relations between having more, giving, pleasing the recipient and feeling blissful. Yes, money, indeed, buys happiness – if you know what I mean.
Ed’s Note: Befikadu Eba works at United Bank SC and is a volunteer and advisory Board Member of YMCA Ethiopia. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]