Charity – in fact, altruism in general – is a very difficult concept to explain in a general sense. What I’ve found often is that you either have an innate understanding of why you give or you don’t, and introducing the idea to someone who doesn’t see the benefit is likely to get a shrug of indifference. The best I can do is explain in detail why I give to various causes.
First of all, charitable donations are a direct reflection of my values and perspectives. Whenever I donate money, I’m contributing it towards something that I feel has importance. If I want to see food available to homeless people in my community, I can donate to the local food pantry or soup kitchen. If I want to fight global warming, there are plenty of organisations that are fighting for such change. The real question is whether you have found something with enough importance to you to speak out with your pocketbook.
Second, helping others improves your self worth in many ways. Once you’ve given something to a charity that you truly believe in, you feel good about it. The money in your pocket went towards a cause beyond what you can manage in your daily life, a cause that combined with the similar actions of others can actually bring about change in the world. That’s not something you can get from buying yourself a flat panel television.
Third, charitable donations have indirect benefits. By donating your time or money you could have an affect on someone’s life. Having known you can have a positive. Some people are more hesitant than ever to donate to charities, because they are unsure that their money will be used effectively and efficiently. If you’re concerned, you should check out givewell.org, a website that researches organizations based on a cost/benefit analysis to find out which charity will most cost-effectively change lives.
When you find yourself stressed these days, you might console yourself with a few extra beers, a couple trips to the cinema, or a nice dinner out. Use that money you would spend to keep your mind off things by making a bigger difference, and feeling just as good. A little money goes a long way, especially in the developing world.