You can improve your sense of well-being and your outlook on life through acts of giving -- even if all you do is write a check to the charitable institution of your choice.
If you already give to charities, I salute you for your generosity, and I assure you that you can leverage your altruism to tap ever-greater wellsprings of satisfaction through a process I call "personal Philanthropy" in my book,How to Save the World on $5 a Day.
If you don't currently contribute, please allow me to introduce you to the profound spiritual benefits to be had when you master the art of mindful giving.
In the interest of honest disclosure, let me say that I'm a creative consultant who has partnered with nonprofit organizations for over 20 years. I've helped raise millions of dollars on behalf of such charities as the Arthritis Foundation, the Alzheimer's Association, Habitat for Humanity, Volunteers of America, and many others.
I love that in some way I've helped to make the world a better place... and that every day I can feel good about myself despite all my petty failings and shortcoming, failures and frustrations, because I'm taking part in something meaningful and important.
You, too, can have this sense of well-being, whether you have $5 or $5 million to contribute, or just an hour or two of your time.
Zen masters put forth that enlightenment comes through remembering what we already know. What we already know but may have forgotten about giving is that when we make a charitable donation, we are simply doing a favor.
We certainly feel good about ourselves when we do a favor for family or friends. We should feel the same satisfaction when we give to a charitable cause.
For many of us, however, charitable giving is no longer perceived as a privilege and a pleasure, but a duty that provides us with about as much satisfaction as dashing off a check to the electric company. Charitable giving has become merely another obligatory chore during our busy day -- that is, if we give at all.
That's a terrible loss, because our potential to enjoy giving is what sets us apart from virtually every other species on the planet. (Yes, other creatures are driven by instinct to act in ways that resemble self-sacrifice on behalf of the herd or their young, but only people can choose to give, and only we can feel good about it!)
Think back to the last time you bought a box of cookies or a chocolate bar from the kid next door who was participating in a fundraiser, or when you dropped a few coins into a trick-or-treater's UNICEF box on Halloween... I'd wager that giving in those circumstances put a smile on your face and lightened your heart!
You can experience that same one-to-one immediacy and be touched and nourished on psychological and emotional levels whenever you give, even if you only write a check or make an online credit card donation.
Now, here are some tips to get you started on the path to enlightenment through mindful giving:
1. See the Face of the Charity -- Remember that despite what you write on the "Pay To" line of your check, you are not giving to that organization, or to the charity's staff or volunteers, as wonderful as these people may be. You are not even giving to the charity's laudable cause. You are giving to the well-being that is the end result of the charity's work. For example, if you give to a humanitarian organization, you are firsthand improving or saving lives. If you give to an environmental charity, view your donation as reaching out to all creatures great and small by helping to advance conservation.
2. Be Loyal -- It may sound odd to think of being loyal to a charity the way you might be loyal to your favorite sports team, but those who get the most out of giving are those who are their cause's greatest fans. Find a charity that resonates with you and stick with it. Build connections between yourself and the cause by spending time on its website, exploring links, perhaps advocating on its behalf, participating in its events (walks, runs, biking, etc.), and maybe even eventually volunteering. Or, simply contribute financially, but root for your charity to "win" -- and you'll experience far more emotional pleasure when your charity shares with you the good news of victories earned with your help, and personal involvement when you're informed of challenges still to be met.
3. Give Frequently -- The best way to experience the benefits of giving according to your financial situation is to make, say, five $10 gifts rather than one $50 gift... or ten $50 dollar gifts instead of one $500 gift. This is just like the way you'll get more out of exercising an hour a day five days a week, as opposed to exercising five hours each weekend. Donate at your financial comfort level, parceling out the amounts of your contributions so you can frequently receive the mental and spiritual paybacks of charitable giving.
The lesson I want to impart is that intent is everything. It is our intent to give and awareness of our acts, more than the amount of our personal philanthropy, that will bring about a brighter future for us in terms of our personal outlooks on life, and for our planet as a whole.