Living and Giving for a More Meaningful Life

dollars in coffee cup

On my way to work, I drive by a number of panhandlers that station themselves on the median strips around the intersection.  Most carry signs that state they are homeless,out of work and in need of money.  The city has tried to address the “problem” of panhandling through ordinances that ban the practice, but that hasn’t worked. Clearly, the issue is more complex than keeping people from loitering on the city medians. We’ve all heard the arguments for and against giving money to panhandlers. I understand the concerns involved.

However, what I do know is that I have enough resources to meet my basic needs, and more.  I have enough to share with another person whose circumstances have resulted in standing out in the elements, holding a cardboard sign asking for help, and enduring humiliation and public scrutiny. My current practice is to give one of these folks a dollar bill and a package of hand warmers, a power bar, or a frequent buyer card for a free cup of coffee at Whole Foods. My hope is that this action affirms another person’s humanity and perhaps eases their difficulties for a time. I experience deeper appreciation for the abundance and find greater meaning in my life through this simple act of generosity. This doesn’t preclude me from giving to my faith community, social service agencies, and other good causes.  I do that also.

A recent Barna Group article on research findings that indicate that 75% of adults in the United States are seeking ways to live more meaningful lives.  This involves an integration of all aspects of daily living–family, home life, vocation, religious or spiritual involvement, education, and community engagement–with one’s values, goals, and sense of calling. This is not an easy balance to achieve with the cultural pressure to make money, stay ahead of the bills, maintain relationships with family and friends, and generally stay out of trouble.  But, we all know there is more to life than just keeping our heads above water…we thrive when we gain a sense of well-being and happiness that comes from a strong social support network, freedom to make choices in our lives, and experiencing generosity.  As Tom Ahern puts it in his presentations, “Living up to our personal values is a pleasure. There is dopamine involved.”

Those of us working in the realms of fundraising and stewardship must remember the importance of connecting personal values, lifestyle choices, happiness, and opportunities for expressing generosity when framing our fundraising appeals and events. A growing body of philanthropic data indicate that today’s donors seek deeper connections with the causes to which they contribute. They aspire to live up to their personal values through their giving. Younger donors want to make a positive difference in the lives of people and in the world through their contributions of time and money. In these ways giving becomes an integral and meaningful part of daily living, enhancing the well being of all involved and society at large.

Barna Group. Three Trends on Faith, Work and Calling. February 11, 2014.

Public Broadcasting System (PBS). This Emotional Life. Alturism & Happiness. 

World Happiness Report 2012