Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California
All have heard the popular aphorism ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Well, it turns out that the blessing received by giving may be more extensive than previously imagined. For example, a recent survey indicated that those who had a practice of giving reported greater physical health, an elevated level of happiness and well-being as well as a substantial attenuation of feelings of stress.i Does social connection turn good deeds into good feelings? On the value of putting the `social´ in prosocial spending, the answer is definitively yes.ii Other studies indicate that giving thoughtful, empathic (giving something meaningful to the recipient) gifts brings the gifts gives the gift giver the greatest overall satisfaction.iii This implies that seeing the person you are giving to as a unique person is more efficacious in bringing about the ‘blessings’ in giving, versus contributing to the masses. As St. (Mother) Theresa of Calcutta put it: "If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one [the single individual], I will."iv
As any individual in mankind is a unity of body, mind and spirit, a spiritual connection to giving can aid in our understanding of generosity, and even prompt us to be giving thanks by giving. One recent study on philanthropy (gift giving) concluded: “The more important religion is to a person, the more likely that person is to give to a charity of any kind, according to new research released today.”v
One Buddhist writer tells us: “those who are well-established on the path to emancipation continue to practice giving as it is conducive to wealth, beauty and pleasure...,” which are the four sublime states a human can attain and reach bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas give in this manner whenever the opportunity presents itself, strictly in order to fulfill the danaparami, the "perfection of giving," which is the first of the ten perfections they must cultivate to the highest degree in order to attain Buddhahood (perfect enlightenment).vi Hindu political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi once said: tells us: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”vii The Jewish Torah speaks extensively of tzedakah, meaning the act of giving to the needy. It can be considered as charity, although justice would be a more accurate translation as God “selects certain people as agents to disburse His bounty to others.” Such giving is a blessing for the giver because the Torah indicates that “the gifts that we give to others will eventually return to us.”viii
The Christian theology of giving is profound. The spiritual father of the Church, St. Maximos the Confessor, tells us it is in “imitation of God . . . . He gives equally to all according to their need.” The saint also gives a practical account of how giving can be done: it is a “state of love [that] may be recognized in the giving of money, and still more in the giving of spiritual counsel and in looking after people in their physical needs.”ix This love is in imitation of God Himself. The lesson for giving is for us to see God in individual persons.
i[Aknin, L.B., Dunn, E.W., Sandstrom, G.M. and Norton, M.I. (2013).
iiInternational Journal of Happiness and Development, 1(2), pp. 155-171.
ix[Palmer, G.E.H.; Sherrard, P.; and Ware, K. (Trans.) (1971, 1981, 1988, 1990). Philokalia, I-IV. (IV p. 55). London: Faber and Faber.]
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V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.
Fr. Morelli is the Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion.
Fr. Morelli is a Senior Fellow at the Sophia Institute, an independent Orthodox Advanced Research Association and Philanthropic Foundation housed at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York City that serves as a gathering force for contemporary Orthodox scholars, theologians, spiritual teachers, and ethicists.
Fr. Morelli serves on the Executive Board of the San Diego Cognitive Behavior Therapy Consortium (SDCBTC)
Fr. Morelli serves as Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.
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