Today marks the 10th anniversary of Giving Tuesday. The tradition was launched in 2012 by Henry Timms, who at the time was deputy executive director of New York City’s 92nd Y and is now CEO of Lincoln Center. His thinking was that Black Friday and Cyber Monday didn’t fulfill the spirit of a holiday weekend built around gratitude. “So what about adding Giving Tuesday?” Timms asked. “Could you add a day that reversed the trend, that, after all this consumerism, people would give back, that they would engage with the world?” When he wrote to me at the time with this proposal — I was then running HuffPost — I couldn’t have been more enthusiastic, and, along with several other outlets, was thrilled to publicize the cause. Since then, Giving Tuesday has been a tremendous force for good, sparking millions of acts of generosity around the world. And this year, Giving Tuesday will surpass over $10 billion raised online.
That’s an incredible milestone, which will have an incredible impact. And in the spirit of Timms’s vision, we can continue to find new ways to bring giving — and all its benefits — into our daily lives, in all seasons. Instead of confining the power of giving to a single day, what if we brought the same giving spirit to the other 364 days of the year? That’s why I’m thrilled to announce that Thrive is launching the Giving Every Day Challenge on our platform, available to all our partners and customers.
Giving is one of our most powerful well-being tools. Going beyond ourselves and stepping out of our daily worries and struggles to give to someone else is one of the most effective and proven ways to boost our well-being and gain perspective on our challenges. When we give to others, we’re able to transform our own lives as much as the recipient’s.
When I asked Timms to reflect on 10 years of Giving Tuesday, he powerfully echoed this sentiment. “A little ironically, one of the most effective acts of self-care is not of focus on the self at all, but instead to address the needs of others,” he told me. “Giving of all kinds — whether money, time or skills — benefits the direct recipient, as well as our wider society. But we too easily forget how much generosity delivers for the giver. Making a gift improves our sense of well-being, strengthens our social connections and fights feelings of isolation. Meditation gets all the headlines, but if you really want to find yourself, try philanthropy.”
When our whole world shrinks down to just ourselves — a state that’s very easy to find ourselves in given how much our technology-driven world encourages it — the smallest problems or reversals of fortune throw us. Our entire narrative is just us. And so our entire state of being rises and falls with that narrative. But when we include others in that narrative, it is much easier to gain perspective, to gain empathy and to find gratitude. That has huge consequences for our mental health, making us much more effective at dealing with stress, anxiety and even depression.
That’s why this holiday season at Thrive, we’re continuing a tradition we started last year of giving each Thriver a $100 TisBest charity gift card to give to the charity of their choice. For 15 years, starting at HuffPost and continuing at Thrive Global, I’ve had a tradition of giving sweaters or pajamas to team members as a holiday gift. But last year, what we gave instead was the gift of giving, as part of Ray Dalio’s campaign to #RedefineGifting. And we asked people to take a moment to reflect and write up a few sentences about the charity they chose and why. And the stories they shared were deeply personal and inspiring. Thrivers gave to charities that personally resonated with them — to honor legacies of loved ones and contribute to worthy causes from suicide prevention and cancer research to wildlife preservation and children with disabilities. Since its founding in 2007, TisBest has had a remarkable impact, directing over $54 million in gifts from individuals and businesses to more than 30,000 mission-driven charities.
There’s a reason why giving is a key step on the path to fulfillment in practically every religious and spiritual tradition. “The generous person will prosper, and whoever refreshes others will himself be refreshed,” reads Proverbs. “Through selfless service, you will always be fruitful and find the fulfillment of your desires,” says Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. And in Acts, Jesus says that “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” In 63 A.D. Seneca wrote that “No one can live happily who has regard for himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his own utility.”
And science has validated this ancient wisdom again and again. One study found that volunteering at least once a week gives you the same boost to well-being as a salary increase from $20,000 to $75,000. A Harvard Business School study showed that “donating to charity has a similar relationship to subjective well-being as a doubling of household income.” The same study found that students who were told to spend a small amount of money on someone else were happier than students who were told to spend it on themselves.
And the effect doesn’t just come from the idea of donating some money — it comes from the connection enabled by the giving. In one study, researchers gave participants $10 gift cards. One group was instructed to spend it on themselves. Another was instructed to give it to someone else to spend at Starbucks, but not go with them. And the third was told to give them to someone else and go with them to Starbucks to spend it. The result? In the words of the authors, “participants who spent on others in a way that allowed for social connection experienced the highest levels of happiness at the end of the day.”
Another study found that volunteering was connected to lower rates of depression, higher self-reported levels of well-being and a significant reduction in mortality risk. A study analyzing data going back to 1957 found that those who volunteered lived longer than those who didn’t.
In fact, we’re so hard-wired to give that our genes reward us for it — and punish us when we don’t. So when our happiness is mostly hedonic we have higher levels of biological markers that promote inflammation and which are linked to diabetes, cancer and other conditions, and when our happiness includes service to others our health profiles have reduced levels of the same markers.
Of course, everybody experiences a mixture of both kinds of happiness, but our bodies’ internal systems are subtly pushing us to seek out the kind based on giving. Our bodies know what we need to do to nurture our well-being, even if our minds — and our overly-crammed schedules — don’t always get the message.
And if you think your never-ending to-do list — or what researchers call the feeling of “time famine” — makes it impossible to fit a regular practice of giving into your life, well, giving has an answer to that, too. One of my favorite studies, from the Wharton, Yale and Harvard business schools, compared three groups of participants: one that wasted time, one that spent time on themselves, and one that gave their time away doing something for someone else. As it turned out, the third group had significantly higher feelings of “time affluence” — by giving their time away, they literally felt like they had created more time in their lives. And, even more fascinating, because of the boosted feelings of self-efficacy that helping others had given them, they were also more likely to commit to additional future engagements, even though they were very busy. So giving actually expanded their schedules, allowing them to fit more — both for themselves and for others — into their lives.
And it makes sense. Giving answers our fundamental need for human connection. I remember when a friend of mine lost her job after a successful career. It was a big blow, and she was having real trouble gathering the confidence to bounce back. I encouraged her to start volunteering and recommended A Place Called Home, which works with underserved young people in south central L.A. She found herself exposed to a whole other world. One evening, sitting in a forgiveness circle, when her turn came she forgave her daughter for forgetting her birthday — after which the girl next to her forgave her mother for shooting her father. It quickly put her disappointment and fear about the future in perspective. She saw firsthand that what people who are struggling economically need in addition to money, food, clothing and material necessities is to feel that someone hears them and cares.
We see this in very obvious ways in the collective response to natural disasters. Whether it’s earthquakes, hurricanes or the appalling and endless parade of mass shootings. Soon after the event, like clockwork, we’ll see the stories of strangers helping strangers, and how it brought out the best in us and helped shake us out of our complacent, self-centered routines.
But we don’t need extreme events or natural disasters to spur us to tap into our natural humanity. We can access this fundamental part of ourselves by making giving a regular part of our lives. After all, we know there are people in need all the time, in every city, in every community. Nor is giving just about going to homeless shelters and food banks — as important as those are. It’s also about giving whatever special skills and talents and passions you have. That can mean tutoring, mentoring, using our expertise to help a non-profit, or a neighbor, or a friend or family member.
It’s about doing whatever we can to widen the circle of our concern. It’s not just good for the world, it’s good for us. And all we need is to just widen our definition of self-care. Because creating a healthy self-care routine includes making time to care for others. Or, as Eleanor Roosevelt put it: “Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.”
Here are seven of my favorite Microsteps to help you make giving a part of your life.
1. Say a genuine “thank you” to someone each day.
Expressing gratitude is a great way to connect with others, boost resilience, and lower stress. Whether you do it in person or in an email, make gratitude a regular part of how you interact at work.
2. Find one small way to give that draws on your own talents.
Focusing on what you can offer to others reduces feelings of helplessness and allows you to have an impact.
3. Schedule giving time.
Whether it’s volunteering, donating, or supporting your loved ones, setting a reminder will help you hold yourself accountable.
4. When you go out to eat, leave a larger tip than you normally would.
Recognizing people for their service is a great way to show gratitude and boost our sense of connection.
5. If you’re working remotely, take a portion of funds you would normally spend on commuting and make a charitable contribution.
Giving reduces our stress levels, provides us with a deeper sense of meaning, and may also lower the risk of depression.
6. Each day, spend time on someone else, even if you’re busy.
Helping, listening, or simply being present for someone else can benefit both you and whoever you’re helping. Research shows that when we spend time on others, our sense of our own time actually expands.
7. Volunteer with a friend or your partner or your children.
Teaming up can give you a boost of motivation. You’ll double your impact and share a meaningful moment of connection at the same time.