In the Message version of the Bible, Jesus is reported to have said, “You’re far happier giving than getting” (Acts 20:35). The NIV version says the more familiar words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive“. When I was young, and heard this quotation something within me said, “Oh yeah!” in a sceptical way. Although I acknowledged that it must be true if it said so in the Bible, I didn’t really believe it. But as I grew older the words became so obviously true, in my experience, and in my observation of other people.
A study in Canada, showed that even toddlers, who you expect to be selfish, were demonstrably happy giving treats to other youngsters, even when that treat belonged to the giver. “People tend to assume that toddlers are naturally selfish,” study lead author Lara Aknin said in a university news release. “These findings show that children are actually happier giving than receiving.” (University of British Columbia, news release, June 19, 2012)
So how can giving make us happy? From an individualist point of view it doesn’t make much sense. But God made human beings to be social creatures and this has more significance than individuality. When we give to others in need, the pleasure we feel is because the social side of our make-up is satisfied.
This concept is a little strange to our Western, modern way of thinking. We are used to putting the “I” first. But when we put the needs of the whole community ahead of our own personal wants, it brings pleasure to us and pleasure to God who created us as social beings. It really is a “win-win situation“. When we meet the needs of other people, not only do they gain, but we gain also.
Take delight in giving
We can give to those in need for various reasons:
- Out of duty.
- Because we feel guilty.
- Because we want to do what is right.
- Because we seek justice for the poor.
- Simply because we want to.
- Because we have compassion
I have noticed, from personal experience and by observing other people that giving to others in need really does make you happy. Even if we give out of duty or out of guilt, giving will bring a sense of relief. But if we give, willingly, because we want to do what is right and just, and particularly if we give because we simply want to or out of compassion, we have a real sense of joy and happiness by making the gift.
When Paul was writing to the people of Corinth he said these words (The Message, 2 Corinthians 9:7).
“I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.“
Why should God love us giving and being delighted to give? I think there are a number of reasons:
- God cares about us, and therefore he is pleased when giving makes us happy.
- God cares about other people and he largely uses us to meet other people’s needs.
- God created us not just to be individuals but to be members of a community. He is therefore pleased when our actions reflect our social make-up.
Where are the needs
- Firstly there are those in our own extended family and local community who are in need. When we are willing to give and take delight in giving, God opens our eyes to see needs wherever we look.
- As the world gets smaller and smaller, our community extends to the whole world. It is not always practical to give to needs in other countries directly. The charity I founded, karuna Action, meets the needs of many people in developing countries. But the charity cannot do this without your help. You can give by credit or debit card online at the karuna Action website or you can post a cheque to: karuna Action, the Kings Centre, High Street, Aldershot, GU11 1DJ.
- Toddlers Are Happier to Give Than Receive (nlm.nih.gov)
- Heads or Tails (itsourblog.typepad.com)
- UBC study shows young kids aren’t so selfish after all (canada.com)
- Selfishness or Compassionate Giving (georgedowdell.org)