It might surprise you to learn that secular studies are emphatic in their assertion that giving makes people happier. A survey of thirty thousand American households showed that “people who gave money . . . to all types of religious and secular causes were far happier than non-givers.”[i] Most of the people who conduct these studies don’t realize they’re agreeing with Jesus, who said: “It is more blessed [makarios: happy-making] to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Yes, we should give because it’s right but also because it’s smart and gladness-generating. When we give, everyone but Satan wins. God is happy, those who receive our gifts are happy, and we’re happy. Scripture tells us that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). God takes delight in the believer who takes delight in giving.
Note the contagious nature of giving in this verse:
The people had given willingly to the Lord, and they were happy that so much had been given. King David also was extremely happy. 1 Chronicles 29:9, GNT
Seeing their joy, King David rejoiced over his people’s generosity, and his joy no doubt enhanced theirs. God’s people throughout the ages have discovered the same truth: benevolence begets happiness.
Hudson Taylor, a nineteenth-century missionary to China, lived a simple life, giving away two-thirds of his income. He said, “My experience was that the less I spent on myself and the more I gave to others the fuller of happiness and blessing did my soul become.”[ii]
A friend asked me recently, “Do you know any generous person who’s unhappy?” I gave it a lot of thought. I know many generous people. Some have been through great tragedies. Some have dealt with seasons of depression and anxiety. But would I, overall, describe any of them as unhappy? No. Their generosity infuses joy into their lives and eclipses their many reasons to be sad.
So I asked myself another question, “Do I know any stingy person who’s happy?” The answer came quickly: “Not a single one.” And I have yet to think of an exception. Stingy people imagine they’re better off not giving, but their failure to give costs them dearly.
Playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906) said, “Money may be the husk of many things, but not the kernel. It brings you food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; acquaintances, but not friends; servants, but not faithfulness; days of joy, but not peace or happiness.”[iii]
We all need money, but the greatest happiness comes not in spending but in generous giving. There are many reasons for this joy in giving. One is that we are being like Christ, and thereby entering into his happiness. Another is knowing that we’re investing in eternity and that one day in the heavenly kingdom we’ll see the tangible results of our giving. There’s an ongoing drama of human request and divine response in which God the Director offers us the part of the giver.
God’s giving to us results in our thanksgiving to Him. Giving infuses life with joy. It interjects an eternal dimension into even the most ordinary day. May we and our families experience such grace-filled happiness this entire Thanksgiving-Christmas season, and throughout the year! Having received it ourselves, may we extend God’s grace to others through our giving.
Next Tuesday, December 1, is the fourth annual Giving Tuesday, the philanthropic community’s response to the consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s designed to provide people with a charitable day to consider giving as they go into the holiday season.
You can give to any ministry you choose. (In fact, we don’t turn down gifts to EPM!) But one of our favorite ministries participating in Giving Tuesday is the JESUS Film Project. This year, they are giving donors the chance to help fund the translation of “JESUS”—the gospel on film in their heart language—for the Northwestern Tamang people of Nepal. (I’m including here a picture of my book Heaven translated into Nepali. With the earthquakes that occurred in the country earlier this year, I can’t think of anything better than knowing that these people could read about the hope of eternity as well as hear about Jesus’ love and offer of salvation through the JESUS Film!)
[i] Daniel M. Oppenheimer and Christopher Y. Olivola, eds., The Science of Giving (New York: Psychology Press, 2011), 8.
[ii] Howard Taylor and Geraldine Taylor, Hudson Taylor in Early Years: The Growth of a Soul (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1912), 121.
[iii] Henrik Ibsen, quoted in Diane K. Dean, From Ordinary to Extraordinary (Mustang, OK: Tate, 2009), 12.