“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”
Maya Angelou, Poet

What would happen if everyone stopped giving? What inspires people to give? What does “giving” mean to you?

There are particular times of the year that prompt me to muse. The uniquely American celebration of Thanksgiving is one of them. To me, Thanksgiving makes a larger statement than honoring a group of pilgrims who sat around eating wild turkeys and thanking God for their survival. Certainly the holiday does cover the act of “thanks” but what about the “giving” part?

The book by the former President, Bill Clinton, Giving, clearly brings to light what I call the “high end of the giving spectrum.” This list of do-gooders includes such visible luminaries as Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey. In addition, you can hardly look anywhere without seeing the good works of celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. What about the other end of the spectrum, the group that includes most of us? What can we give?

Clinton touches on this group by acknowledging that citizen activism and service can be a powerful agent of change in the world. Certainly every community has a number of service organizations through which people can contribute their money and their time. If that’s not enough, there are well over 1.4 million not-for-profit organizations competing for your funds. It’s also fascinating that the business of giving is so big that many individuals now turn to professional financial planners to find out how their contributions balance out some of the state and federal government taxes they’re obliged to pay.

Corporate giving is also huge. In fact, almost every business to which I speak is doing something wonderful in the world by donating a portion of their profits to several worthy causes. Just last week I had the privilege of speaking to a corporation that not only sponsors an orphanage in Mexico but also pays for their employees to fly there, work on a one-to-one basis with people in the local town and experience the payoff for giving.

There are many reasons that people give. Some give to have their names permanently inscribed on the cornerstone of an impressive building, some give to make the list of the Top 60 Philanthropists in the world and others give to gain political access. Does the reason really matter? No. What matters is – giving.

The fact is that there seems to be a groundswell on the giving front. Perhaps it’s due to the mood of the world today. Maybe, by giving, we feel that we have some control in a world that seems out of control. Again, does the reason really matter? I don’t think so. Maybe that’s why a number of our schools have started to include “community service” as part of the graduation requirements and that’s why thousands of people have formed “giving circles” in hundreds of communities in order to leverage the power of their individual gifts.

All the high end and group giving is great but what can a single, average, busy, hardworking, individual do? Quite a bit. My very busy wife has an unwavering internal commitment to do one ‘good thing’ for someone every day. My brother and his wife, both retired from teaching, have made a different kind of commitment. They, literally, search within their community, find someone in need and give of their time. As of this writing, they are busy helping neighbors fix-up and paint their home for selling.

Why should you be motivating to give? Here’s the best reason of all. It will make you feel great. As the 18th century philosopher, Dennis Diderot wrote, “Happiest are the people who give most happiness to others.”

Here’s a thought that may help you shift your thinking about giving. Consider giving as- a selfish act. The fact is: life really is like a mirror. It gives back what you put into it. So, why not put something to life by giving?

If you have the time, volunteer and give the gift of your time. There’s a great payoff for volunteering. You will develop better communication skills, make new friends, be challenged, build self-esteem and feel needed and appreciated. That’s certainly worth it.

If you don’t have the time to volunteer or the money to give, there are many other ways that you can contribute in life. Give a kind word of praise. Give support to someone who’s attempting to break a habit or make a difficult choice. Give praise to someone who has done a good job.

Whether it’s to be recognized by your peers, receive an award or make a small donation to your church or temple, all that matters is that you GIVE.

Peyton Conway March, one of our most decorated soldiers from World War I, wrote, “There is a wonderful mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most in life – happiness, freedom and peace of mind – are always attained by giving them to someone else.”

Happy Thanks-giving!