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The Power of Giving

Neuroscience says giving can make you healthier and happier. Here's how to start doing it right now.

BY SARA ADHIKARI  

THE OTHER DAY, I was in a giving quandary-a situation many will relate to.

It was an after-dinner outing with friends, sitting in a car like many other groups, in front of a famous dessert cafe in Bengaluru. The norm is that the waiters come to you, take your order, you eat your chosen guilty pleasure in the car, then pay for it and zoom off.

I was already ill at ease with a running engine and air conditioner, so I requested my friend to turn them off and we rolled our windows down. But halfway through the first few mouthfuls, a lad, who looked about 10 or 12 years old, came to my window and said: 'Didi, I am hungry too.'

I froze. The mood in the car changed from convivial to uncomfortable and then confusion to panic. Should I give him what I was eating? Buy him another one? Give him money? Request him to leave? Should I assuage my conscience and the boy's need of the moment? Or should I firmly discourage begging and possibly child trafficking?

This kind of predicament is an everyday occurrence in India. While many are inured to it, others want to address it by giving back-and in a way that will make a difference.
So, how do you go about it?

Donate during an event:
For instance, you can take part in DaanUtsav, India's weeklong philanthropy festival that starts on Gandhi Jayanti, 2 October. An annual celebration of giving in which 60 lakh people are expected to participate this year-from all corners of India and different walks of life-it is a perfect starting point.

You can do anything-there is no blueprint, just so long as the main objective is to give for someone else's benefit. So you could visit an old age home and give your company to the elderly, get fellow residents in your apartment block to pool in and treat the security staff to a special meal, or you can donate fruit and boiled eggs to a local children's charity. There are many other ideas on the DaanUtsav website (joyofgivingweek.org).

What is unique about the festival is that there is no organization behind it, it is run by a bunch of dedicated volunteers who evangelize the idea and enthuse people to take it up. Number one enthusiast Aarti Madhusudan, a DaanUtsav volunteer since it started in 2009, says: 'This festival has made it easier for people to find opportunities to give and removed inhibitions about various types of giving.
'For example, one year a man in a small town near Salem invited the rickshaw puller who had ferried his child to school for 10 years, and his family, for a meal during DaanUtsav. Then, children in a camp of destitute, homeless people in Chennai said they would let their mums sleep in and relieve them of the daily chore of queuing for hours for potable water.' DaanUtsav is full of such touching stories.

Donate to a cause meaningful to you: This is how I started after my husband fell ill with cancer and then succumbed to it. Every year, for five years, I did a charity fun run to raise money for Cancer Research UK.

But when I returned to India in 2012, I found there were so many organizations doing wonderful work across other equally urgent causes that nobody knew about. Questions like 'who do you give to and how?' prompted my idea of smallchange.ngo, a portal that showcases non-profits to promote giving in India.

There are many other India-based fundraising websites too, GiveIndia (www.giveindia.org) being the one that started the trend in India way back in 2000. In fact, online giving is the easiest and most transparent way to make a donation as long as you have identified the cause and the NGO you would like to give to.  

Former CEO of GiveIndia, Dhaval Udani, who has recently founded Danamojo, a payment gateway for NGOs, says:'In the last 20 years, more and more transactions are taking place online. With Danamojo, we wanted to enable individual giving, and make it easy for the younger generation who are doing everything online anyway.'

So, giving is only a click away.

Volunteer your time or skills:Giving in kind can be more satisfying than giving in cash. In fact, recent research by Wharton professor Cassie Mogilner shows that those who volunteer their time feel more 'time-affluent' in the same way as those who donate money feel more wealthy.

And this is applicable across various kinds of volunteering: Give your skills and you acquire other talents, offer physical labour-to clean a beach of litter, for example-and you get fitter, and volunteer your experience and you become richer with new ones.

Search online and you will find many volunteer-driven initiatives. There's Robin Hood Army, in a number of cities in India and now Pakistan and Bangladesh, which serves surplus food from restaurants to the less fortunate in the same locality; Let's Feed Bengaluru that delivers home-cooked food to needy children and the elderly in the city; Bhumi, one of India's largest youth volunteer organizations, helps bridge the education gap between the haves and have-nots.

Or, you could start an initiative of your own!

Giving begins at home:
Everyone deserves a decent wage, fair working hours, time off and a pension, including those employed as domestic workers. The government's recently launched Atal Pension Yojana for the unorganized sector and Gift A Pension are two schemes you can look into. These will not only help your employee save for a dignified retirement, but your commitment to their well-being is a great incentive for them to remain loyal to you.

A large body of research has now established that altruism lies deep in the primitive human brain and we are hardwired to help one another. It has also been proved beyond doubt that giving is good for our health.

In a psychology journal, Emma Seppala, science director of Stanford University Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, writes:'The reason a compassionate lifestyle leads to greater psychological well-being may be explained by the fact that the act of giving appears to be as pleasurable, if not more so, as the act of receiving … Giving to others even increases well-being above and beyond what we experience when we spend money on ourselves.' Now, armed with the why, who, how, what and where to give-experience the joy it brings.    

The author is the founder trustee of Small Change (www.smallchange.ngo).

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