The benefits of generosity are greatest to the giver

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I had known it all of my adult life, but to see it confirmed in the New York Times made it official. Generous people are happier than people who are not generous. Studies show that when one spends money one’s self it hardly moves the happiness needle at all, but when it is spent on others the happiness needle registers a significant increase.

Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote a column in the March 30 edition of the NY Times that gave credibility to this whole idea of generosity.

As a pastor all my life I had observed the same thing. The happiest people I had worked with were the ones who gave generously of their time, treasure and talent to other people and to worthy causes.

My first experience with this was in the first church I served. I was 25 years old, just out of seminary, green as grass but eager to get started.

As I was walking down the hall from my new office to the sanctuary to preach my first sermon there when the treasurer of the church stopped me. He handed me my first paycheck and said, “if the offering is good today, you can take it to the bank.” He was not kidding. The church was broke, and they had forgotten to tell me about it before I had accepted their call to serve them.

I resolved then and there that we had to talk about money. The financial situation improved greatly, and I noticed a decided improvement in the morale of the congregation.

There were a few “old grouches” who never caught on, but the families who learned to be generous had a significant note of happiness about them. They seemed to be doing better with their own finances as well.

Charitable giving improves what psychologists call “self-efficiency.” This is the belief that one can handle a situation and bring about a desired result. Generosity also raises well being, and there is no reason to doubt that it also stimulates material prosperity as lives are improved as well.

As a seasoned pastor, I have observed that the real magic of fund raising is more than a short term feel good experience. It creates meaning. Donors have resources and a sincere conviction and when encouraged to give to a cause that will make the world a better place, they move to being problem solvers.

This is not exactly revolutionary. Poets, philosophers and preacher have been saying it throughout the ages. Jesus was not alone in saying “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”