"Thrift and Generosity"
The Joy of Giving
John M. Templeton, Jr., M.D.
Bryn Mawr, PA
May 17, 2006
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson introduced the concept of "Pursuit of Happiness." It is worth suggesting, however, that in our lives we should strive for something even more significant, something even greater than happiness. That something is joy. To be sure, happiness and joy are perhaps related emotions.
Nevertheless, while both carry positive connotations, happiness and joy are not really the same thing. When I think of happiness, I think of a state that, in some way, is tied to circumstances. Happiness is real, but potentially not permanent. It is influenced by prevailing conditions.
In contrast, joy suggests something deeper and more lasting. Joy implies a state of mind that dwells in the depths of the soul. It implies a degree of contentment too strong and secure to be influenced by the changing circumstances of our lives. Negative developments may deprive a person of outward happiness, but nothing can take away from that person's inner joy.
In addressing the place of joy in our lives, I want to stress the universal truth of "The Joy of Giving." For example, many world religions teach some version of the principle of tithing, or the giving away of a designated portion of income to support religious and charitable causes. For Jews and Christians, that amount is 1/10th.
Many are hesitant to give away 1/10th of their income, because they feel that they "cannot afford it". Such persons should know, however, that a very high percentage of people who have given tithing a chance usually stay with it, because they believe they "cannot afford to stop tithing." One businessman once observed that he knew plenty of people who stopped going to church for one reason or another, but he was not aware of anyone who ever stopped tithing, once they had started. In fact, committed tithers almost universally indicate that they wished they had started sooner.
Thomas Kane said: "I have never seen, nor known, a long-faced tither. Of all the tithers I have ever known, were smiling faces. The source of this real happiness is within us. If tithing develops a life of joy that shows in our faces, can we afford to neglect it?"
Jack and Pina with Dr. John Schott (L), ca. 1983
Many have experienced how tithing has a spiritual, and even material, impact on one's life. One reason is that those who make a commitment to tithe are forced to establish a financial discipline. In creating your budget for the year, if you put your tithe at the top of your budget, a natural sense of the true priorities for the rest of your budget will soon become clear. Once this sort of discipline occurs, it extends its influence to all other areas of your financial picture. Lastly, regarding tithing, just consider how blessed the world would be if every believing and practicing Christian and Jew regularly practiced tithing. All of the world's great religions also promote the concept that we should not live just for ourselves, but for others. The Torah states: "Deeds of Giving are the very foundation of the world." It further commands, "There shall be no needy among you," and "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
The gifts we have been given -whether material, intellectual, or artistic - are ours to enjoy, but they are also ours to share. The challenge is for us to be stewards in our giving - that is, to give in a way that empowers and uplifts the recipients, so that what we give is not so much a handout as a "hand-up." As a test of your giving, you will know that the cycle is complete when you find that the recipient of your gift becomes a giver in return.
Jack with daughters.
That giving is a sign of spiritual maturity is evidenced in the biblical account of "The Widow's Mite." Jesus observed the crowd putting money into the Temple treasury. Some very wealthy people contributed some very large amounts. But then, a poor woman came forth and put in two small coins. Seizing the opportunity to teach, Jesus pronounced, "This poor widow has put more into the Treasury than all of the others. They gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything - all that she had to live on."
Among the most generous people I have been blessed to know was a stockbroker from Philadelphia named Harry Kuch. Harry was the son of immigrant parents who made their living as bakers. In his teen years, Harry became a committed Christian and launched a career in investments, with a goal of serving others.
I got to know Harry near the end of his career. He was among the most joyful people I have ever met, and he shared with his clients the secret to his joy. While many display their Generosity by leaving a large bequest, Harry advised his clients to experience the impact of their giving while they were still alive. He coined the following phrase: "If you're giving while you're living, then you're knowing where it's going."
When we exercise the virtue of Generosity, we create and experience the joy of community. This dynamic is part of our tradition as a Nation. When Alexis de Tocqueville came to America in 1831, he was impressed, among other things, by what he described as a "pervasive spirit of service and volunteerism." This spirit, de Tocqueville maintained, "helped to ameliorate the potential tension between the rule of the majority and the rights of the minority." In essence, through private associations, people did not depend on the government to provide what they needed. Instead, they helped one another.
Jack and Josephine (Pina) being greeted by Pope John Paul
One other example comes from John Wesley, the Founder of Methodism, who advocated the combined virtues of Thrift and Generosity. He said, "Make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can." Wesley would have agreed with Payton March, who said, "There is a wonderful law of nature that the three things we crave most in life - happiness, freedom, and peace of mind - are always obtained by giving them to someone else."
All of us can prosper from seeking every possible opportunity to experiment in giving. The resulting joy you get may surprise you. There are few more uplifting moments in life than realizing, that in some small way, you have truly made a difference.
Jack's second feature for May: Personal Goals
(Jack's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)