Giving to receive
Stephen King is world renowned for his gripping and terrifying novels. He’s also famous for an incredible work ethic, a past of drug abuse that he overcame through no small amount of mind blowing will and determination, and for making lots of money. But what many don’t know is that he is also a large charitable donor.
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, King responded to a question about the obscurity of his donations by saying, “We were raised firmly to believe that if you give away money and you make a big deal of it so that everybody sees it, that’s hubris. You do it for yourself, and you’re not supposed to make a big deal about it.”
Stephen King. Author. Former drug addict. Wealthy. Hard worker. And philosopher.
Charity is the virtue that stands across the road from envy, and it is worth striving for just as much as envy is worth avoiding, if the charitable instinct is genuine.
King touched on a topic many critics of contemporary wealth’s donations highlight, this idea of making a “big deal” of what you give in order to raise yourself in others’ opinions. Bill Gates’ many donations, but even larger income, have made him a prime target for this type of accusation.
For example, philanthropist and accounting expert Sheldon Drobny called out the Gates Foundation as, “a shell for tax avoidance.” This attack is repeated in different words and tones whenever people believe that the wealthy’s charitable instincts are flawed. But what is the correct instinct? What is genuine giving?
King described being charitable as a selfish act, “do it for yourself.” This is accurate, but it can often be too easy to get caught on the word, so often negatively connotated, ‘selfish.’ However, as King understands, it is the productive and healthy kind of selfishness that encourages charity.
In 2008, Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton conducted a study that found that giving money to others raised participants’ happiness more than spending it on themselves. So while a destructive and envy-based selfishness for material goods may be opposed to giving, a positive selfish desire for happiness leads to charity.
Beyond increased happiness, giving has also been linked to improvements in health. In the book Why Good Things Happen to Good People, Stephen Post, a professor of preventative medicine at Stony Brook
University, illustrates that giving can come with health benefits even to those with chronic illnesses such as HIV. Yet again, a needed selfish desire for personal health encourages charity.
A related 1999 study conducted by Doug Oman of the University of California, Berkeley, discovered that elderly men and women who gave their time with two or more organizations were 44 percent less likely to die over a five-year period than the average person. A selfish desire for longevity, which cannot be faulted, also leads to charity.
Charity is also often a mandated component of religious and philosophical thoughts, from Christianity to Buddhism. This leads to a multitude of reasons to forsake envy and strive after a more charitable frame a mind. To begin within the selfish theme, there is a selfish desire to improve your mind and morals as based on the teachings of your chosen faith. Beyond that, each religion and philosophy teaches that certain rewards follow charity done with a pure heart and intentions.
In Christianity it is taught that giving freely is following in Jesus’s footsteps and is thus pleasing to him and God. In Islam, one of the Five Pillars that are the foundation of the Muslim faith, and necessary for eventual spiritual success, charitable almsgiving is Pillar Three. And in Buddhism, charity is taught as essential on the pathway to Nirvana.
The holiday season provides multiple other reasons to be charitable. It is the “season of giving.” Whether it be volunteering at local food shelves, or at churches boxing gifts for soldiers abroad and poor Minnesota families, or donating some of that Christmas money to charities, the holidays are accompanied with a plethora of opportunities to begin reaping the benefits of charity.
This Christmas, make a point of thinking about others. Move beyond a list of demands for gifts and embrace a spirit of giving to others. Not only will you reap the benefits described above, you’ll also be able to show those you love how much they mean to you, and if your charity comes in the form of donations or volunteering, you’ll get the unique opportunity to make someone else’s life just a little bit better.
There are as many reasons to be charitable as there are to avoid envy, but the most important one is to do it for you.