SEVERAL YEARS AGO, I had lunch with a longtime friend, Jim. Over the course of 30 years, he’s had a tremendous impact on my life through his wise counsel and fine example. That day, Jim wanted to treat me to lunch, but I stepped in front of him in line and paid for us. After I’d paid, I could see the disappointment in Jim’s face. He turned to the woman behind him and proceeded to pay for her lunch.
As Jim gave the cashier the money, the woman looked at him in shock and said emphatically, “Sir, that is the nicest thing a man has done for me in years.” As I looked at the woman and then at Jim, I could see the joy in their faces. I knew Jim was faithful in giving to his church and other charities. But for the first time, I witnessed the joy he received because of that giving. His joy appeared to be even more profound than the woman’s joy.
Contrast that experience to the story I recently heard from another friend. He mentioned to his business associate the joy he and his wife experience when they give. He told his associate that they’d decided many years ago not to limit their giving to a percentage of income, but instead chose to increase their giving each year. The business associate looked at him a bit confused and asked, “Why would you ever give more than 10%?”
As I reflect on these two experiences, I’ve come to understand that there’s a difference between dutiful giving and desired giving. One looks at giving as an obligation, almost like paying taxes, while the other understands that there’s real joy to be experienced when we’re generous.
Many people are aware of Jesus’s statement that, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Recent scientific research seems to confirm that giving is inherently rewarding. Jordan Grafman and his team of neuroscientists at the National Institute of Health found that giving money to charity activated the parts of the brain associated with the pleasures of eating and other enjoyable activities. Their scientific research shows that people who give receive positive physiological results from seeing their money go to help others. At times, scientific research can be confusing, with a lot of graphs and numbers. Real life is where truth is tested, as illustrated by the next two stories.
Cami Walker, in her early 30s, was stricken by multiple sclerosis (MS). She lost the use of her hands, vision in one eye, and her mobility. Within two years, she had quit her job and was completely dependent on her husband. In a state of depression, she called a friend who gave her a challenge. The challenge involved giving away 29 gifts in 29 days.
Although it was difficult for her to get out of bed, on day one she gave the gift of time and attention to a friend of hers in a more advanced stage of MS. Walker continued her giving and chronicled her experiences in the 2009 New York Times bestseller, 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life. Although she’s not 100% cured, there has been no further progression in her disease.
The late Manute Bol was the seven-foot, seven-inch center for several NBA teams. He spent most of the millions he earned to help people in his native Sudan. What most people don’t know is that when his money dwindled because of his generosity, Bol continued to raise money through charity fundraising events. To that end, he agreed to appear as a clown, pose as a jockey and box with a former NFL player. In a 2010 Wall Street Journal article, Jon Shields wrote that, “Bol agreed to be a clown. But he was not willing to be mocked for his own personal gain as so many reality TV stars are. Bol let himself be ridiculed on behalf of suffering strangers in the Sudan. He was a fool for Christ.”
One of my favorite thinkers is the 20th century author C.S. Lewis, who was known for giving the profits from his dozens of books to charity. The C.S. Lewis Institute, which continues to carry the message of C.S. Lewis, once wrote, “Few things in life reveal our hearts as do our attitude toward and the practice of giving away our money, especially when it comes to the poor.”
Classical economics has always postulated that, given the choice, man will opt for a personal benefit over a personal loss, even if that loss involves a benefit to someone else. That’s the theory. But from the joy I have seen on Jim’s face and other faithful givers like Cami Walker and Manute Bol, that theory is just that—a theory. Science now seems to have established from a physiological perspective what many have long known: Giving often benefits the giver as much as it does the recipient.
Erik Daniels is an executive vice president with wealth manager Ronald Blue Trust, where he’s worked since 1980. He’s been an adjunct faculty member at Georgia State University, teaching graduate courses on financial and investment planning, and has served on the board of a number of nonprofits. Erik and his wife, Sherri, live in Marietta, Georgia. They have four children and two grandchildren. Erik enjoys golf, and is also an avid reader.