I’ve been mulling over conversations from earlier this week that created a philosophical quandary with a philanthropic bent. Here’s the scenario:

Friend 1, who leans right (politically), gave me the typical lecture heard from politically conservative types that if the government got their sticky fingers off citizens’ money and discontinued their current ‘meddling’ in social affairs then collective individual and corporations’ naturally occurring altruism would have a chance to fix the world’s problems. In the current system, according to said friend, people/companies pay too many taxes to feel the impulse to give in a big way. So according to this theory, paying taxes = philanthropic stinginess. Or less money in your pocket means you are less likely to give away what you have.

Enter Friend 2.

Friend 2 tells me that in a recent 20/20 episode researchers examining the elemental composition of human happiness found that only 50% of happiness is attributed to genetic predisposition; 40% is controlled through daily thoughts and actions; and the remaining 10% is determined by our environment (i.e. how much money we have).

So what do these two things have in common? Well, for one the Danish are considered the happiest people in the world;
AND, the Danish are the highest-taxed people in the world (ie less money in the pocket);
AND, the Danish are top-notch philanthropists when it comes to corporate giving (ie more money given away).

Narrow scope of thought experiment aside, can we say there is there a linkage between money, happiness and giving?

Well, it seems that Friend 1 is dead wrong using the example of Danish company giving habits. So less money does not equal giving less. And we all know that money does not equal happiness. So does giving more equal happiness?

I don’t want to corner myself, but I have a hunch. Here is more fodder for thought: there is evidence that being kind can lead to happiness. So, using Friend 2’s 20/20 information, choosing to be kind in daily thought and actions holds up against other research.

Now, to stretch it further, could we say that being kind is also sharing resources (ie giving away money)? This is not necessarily “proven” (or I couldn’t find direct evidence on this online) but it seems that giving more is a rather happy endeavor. Could it be that if we all gave to our communities with our time, skills and dollars that we could see an increase in the happy quotient of our country?

I can just see the NYT headlines now: Surgeon General says charitable donation good for one’s health.

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