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  • Steve Coker, CFP

Giving with Joy


I had several conversations this week about the importance of giving. The Christmas season does, rightly, remind us that it is better to give than receive, but when we get down to writing those checks it can be hard. Why is that? How can I become a more generous person? How can I learn to give with joy?


In my experience one of the most important first steps is to leave room in the budget to give. To spend less than we earn. Quite simply stated, the road to unhappiness is paved with debt. Unfortunately, even giving cannot overcome the stress and anxiety caused by spending too much. Perhaps this an obvious statement, but we all too often forget. The new car, the new stereo, the Hawaiian vacation all seem like they should bring happiness, and the advertising is good at convincing us that it will. Yet the credit card bill at the end of the month will cause far more unhappiness. We cannot give joyfully if we have stress and anxiety about our finances before we begin.


Of course, leaving room in the budget for giving will sometimes mean sacrificing some of those wants, but this will begin the change in our thinking to focus on giving rather than getting. It may seem hard to forgo something that we want in order to give, but there is a growing body of evidence that people who give to charity and give gifts to others are happier than those who spend on themselves. This statement seems like a paradox since the more we give the less we have. But study after study reveals the same result. In one study, randomly assigned people were put into groups and asked to spend $5 on themselves and $20 on others or $20 on themselves and $5 on others. Surprisingly, those who spent more on others were consistently more ‘happy’ with the experience than those who spent more on themselves.


I believe that happiness doesn’t come from how much money we earn, but how we spend the money that we have. How many times have we all thought, “if I only made another $500 per month then everything would be ok”. The problem with this line of thinking is that as our income changes our aspirations change. As our incomes rise, we are always “$500” away from contentment. We’ve stepped onto the treadmill and can never quite seem to reach the goal. The truth is that stepping off the treadmill means changing our thinking rather than our incomes.


I admit that I am on the journey to being a generous person. Sometimes it is hard, and it is so easy to simply be concerned with my own affairs. But, I have also found the amazing joy that comes from sacrifice and giving. In my work as a financial advisor, I have had the pleasure of working with hundreds of individuals and I have seen how these principles play out. I have seen first-hand the joy that comes from giving, and hope that this Christmas you can grow in your journey of generosity too.

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