06/23/2013 12:46 pm ET Updated Aug 23, 2013

What Is the 'Return' on Charity?

We live in a cynical world.

In fact, as a longtime (and proud) resident of New York City, you might say that I live in a particularly jaded town -- the capital of both capitalism and cynicism.

In spite of these facts, I have come to believe that the key to life, and the highest form of mental well being, is not something that can be assessed through the DSM-V, quantified through a psychological assessment, picked up in your local university, or seen on a bank statement.

The highest form of mental health is charity. I have come to believe this not because it has been statistically proven in a laboratory, or written up in an academic journal, but because because I have seen and experienced it in real life and in real time (things that are often in short supply these days) with my patients. Invariably, it is those patients who, amidst their struggles, decide to give of themselves that tend to have the best outcomes in my practice. I have seen it happen so many times that it has become an obvious part of the healing process.

Give in Order to Give

Even though giving charity has a healing effect, you should not give because it will cure your anguish. Ideally, you should give in order to give because charity is its own reward. When you give you receive not because it "gets" you anything but because giving of yourself is what we were all meant to do. It is the internal reward of doing something right and good, and the moment you begin to calculate what it will yield the purity of the gesture is lost. Moreover, you want to be mindful of what you give, so that you are a giving tree, not a "giving cave."

Give No Matter What

Charity is an "absolute good," that is to say it does not matter why you do it only that you do it. The reason for this is simple -- the starving man is no worse off if the reason he has food is that you wanted to look like a big shot, nor is someone who is sick any worse off because the reason you donated that hospital wing was because you wanted a tax write off or wanted your name on a building.

In an ideal world (which, as noted above we do not live in) we would give without expectation of receiving. We would all know that the return on charity is the giving itself. However, if you are having a bad day, consider skipping the retail therapy this time around and instead use that money to give to someone who is truly in need. Your giving will start a positive cycle for them as well as yourself, and who knows, maybe it will start a wave of giving and perhaps the next time I write a blog there will be just a little less cynicism to go around.