Monday 26 September 2016

Well-being: Give, and you shall receive

Help others to help yourself

Published 21/06/2016 | 02:30

Bill Gates
Bill Gates

The death of Muhammad Ali earlier this month brought many of his most quotable lines back into popular discourse. We all know his 'float like a butterfly' soundbites. However, Ali wasn't just a champion boxer with a good line in fighting talk. He was a humanitarian who shared many profound insights too.

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Just about everyone has an Ali quote that resonates with them. My personal favourite? "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth".

We often associate 'service to others' with self-sacrifice. We think of people putting the needs of others in front of their own. Yet we forget that what they give out they almost always get back ten-fold. Ali was in service to others, yes, but he was serving himself too.

Researchers are beginning to discover what philosophers and prophets have told us for aeons: People who serve others are proven to be happier and healthier.

A study that came out of Johns Hopkins University found that people who provided social support to others had lower blood pressure than participants who didn't.

Another study, detailed in The Paradox of Generosity by sociologists Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson, found that people who volunteered an average of 5.8 hours per month, described themselves as "very happy", while those that volunteered for 36 minutes described themselves as "unhappy".

There is even evidence to suggest that we are happier when we give our money away rather than spend it on ourselves.

A study by researchers at the Harvard Business School - which is detailed in the book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending - found that money really can buy happiness… if we spend it on others.

These studies prove that altruism isn't self-sacrificing. It's in fact self-actualising.

Mahatma Gandhi expressed this concept best when he said "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others". It's also the best way to make a contribution to the world.

A charitable act is never an isolated incident. Researchers have discovered that giving is contagious - it instigates a ripple effect that reaches far and beyond the initial good deed.

A study by social contagion researchers James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that "cooperative behaviour cascades in human social networks".

"Each person in a network can influence dozens or even hundreds of people, some of whom he or she does not know and has not met," they concluded. In other words, the 'pay it forward' movement is scientifically proven.

Many people believe that the 1 Percent Club has the power to effect social change. They rationalise that the world would be a better place if the wealthiest members followed the philanthropic example of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg et al.

Yet they often underestimate the ripple effect that the average person can generate.

I know people who give away 10pc of their income as a matter of course. And it's no coincidence that they are some of the happiest people I know.

They aren't billionaires. They're aren't even millionaires. They are ordinary people with mortgages to pay and mouths to feed.

Some of them are Christian tithers who put their faith in the proverb "whoever refreshes others will be refreshed". Some of them are honouring the Jewish tradition of 'tzedakah', which means earmarking 10pc of your earnings for charity.

And some of them have no religious affiliation. Like Muhammad Ali, they're just paying the rent for their room here on earth.

What's interesting is that these people are by no means lacking. In fact, money seems to come into their lives as abundantly as it goes out.

It reminds me of a quote by the late Maya Angelou: "When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed".

Of course, 'cheerfully' is the operative word. Sincerely generous people aren't giving their money away to earn status within their community, just as they aren't volunteering their time to add another accomplishment to their CV.

While they trust that their needs will always be met, they aren't giving in the hope of getting something in return.

There is no resentment or resistance when we give wholeheartedly; no payday arithmetic or tallying up of favours done in return.

How can you tell the difference between giving wholeheartedly and giving half-heartedly? You don't feel lacking afterwards. On the contrary, you feel fuller.

When we give in this spirit, it all comes back ten-fold. Anything else is just ego-polishing.

The great paradox is that the best way to help ourselves is to help others - as long as we remember that it's not what we give but how we give it.

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