The Hebrew word for “to give” is natan. In two languages, Hebrew and English, it’s a palindrome—the same word backward and forward. To give is to receive and to receive is to give. The act of giving then becomes a reciprocal transaction, an unspoken agreement between a giver and a receiver rather than something that one with more does to/for one with less.
No matter how one chooses to give—whether it’s serving our country, donating food to the hungry, or volunteering time for an organization whose mission we’re passionate about—there is always value for all concerned. That fact doesn’t make the gift of one’s time, skills, or resources any less precious or special. It simply means that the act of giving back is good for the giver, too.
Helping others have their needs met. In its simplest form, giving to others ensures they can have their basic needs met. Everyone has (or should have) the right to food, clothing, shelter, security, and love. The absence of these things prevents those with less from being fully actualized as human beings. It is incredibly difficult to give one’s gifts to the world if it is a battle merely to survive. When you give so that others have enough, you reap the benefit of them bringing their best selves to the world.
Developing gratitude (and putting things into perspective). It is easy to get stuck in our own stories about all that is wrong with our lives. We’re not where we want to be. Someone has treated us poorly. We haven’t gotten what we wanted to get. Being able to help someone with less than we have has a funny way of putting things into perspective. Yes, I work a crazy number of hours, but I have a job. Yes, the kids clogged the toilet and I had an unexpected plumber bill, but I have running water. Yes, my life isn’t exactly what I want, but I have all that I need. Knowing that—that our own needs are met and that we’re in a position to help others meet theirs—that’s cause for gratitude.
Living a longer, healthier life. Google the health benefits of giving to others and you’ll find a whole host of science to back up the claim that giving is both literally and figuratively good for you. Giving to others has been shown to decrease stress, increase emotional well-being, improve cognitive function and more. You can’t argue with science.
Developing your own skills. Depending upon how you choose to give back to others, there are any number of skills you can develop yourself. For instance, if you volunteer for a local community organization, you may learn how to work with diverse teams, communicate with others who may be different from you, manage resources, etc.
In fact, if you’ve ever had the experience of a gap in employment, you’ve likely been advised to find a place to volunteer. That advice is so often given because it’s understood that prospective employers acknowledge the strengths and skills that volunteer service can help to develop. (It’s a happy bonus that if you’re feeling down about being unemployed—serving others is a great way to redirect your attention, feel a sense of purpose, and provide value to others who are grateful for your time and effort.)
Building community (and expanding your world). Giving to local causes you care about strengthens your community. It unites people who might not otherwise connect and creates relationships you might not otherwise experience. And who doesn’t want to live in (or raise children in) a community that values and takes care of each other?
Sharing your values. How you help—if you help—says a lot about you as a person. It demonstrates what you believe in and what’s important to you. That’s not to say that you should give so others perceive you in a certain way. But it is to say that your actions (or inactions) can be contagious to others. Your children, friends, co-workers, they see what you do and may even model your behavior. Giving spreads in the best viral way possible.
For all these reasons—beyond all these reasons—life is a cycle. Sometimes we have; sometimes we have not. Sometimes we give; sometimes we take. When we can both give and take with grace and generosity of spirit, the world is better for it.