The Joys of Giving (Effectively)

One of the people who inspires me most is Boston-area social worker Julia Wise. Julia is President of Giving What We Can, and also sits on the board of GiveWell, the quantitative charity evaluator upon which many effective altruists rely for donation guidance. She and her husband donate upwards of 40% of their income to effective charities every year. In Strangers Drowning, journalist Larissa MacFarquhar profiled Julia as one of many people with extraordinary dedication to helping others.

Julia’s blog is called Giving Gladly: “Why effective giving is more important — and more fun — than you thought.” I find the concept of “giving gladly” aptly descriptive of my experience in effective altruism, too. I find that donating money gives me joy in a way that few other experiences do, including spending money on myself.

I am apparently quite typical in this regard. The psychological literature suggests that giving money away makes us happier than spending it selfishly. There’s even some suggestion that it improves health and social cohesion.

But effective giving goes beyond these generic benefits of giving. The satisfaction I get from knowing, with a fair degree of confidence, that my charitable dollars will make a demonstrable impact in the lives of others augments that happiness. Effective altruists therefore avoid the pitfalls of so-called “warm-glow giving,” wherein givers feel good just because they’ve donated, not because they can (justifiably) feel confident that they actually improved the world with their donation.

Effective altruism brings yet another layer of happiness, because the EA community is filled with incredibly smart, kind, thoughtful, and dedicated people from around the world. I have found being part of this community adds yet another layer of meaning and satisfaction to my life.

I don’t think I have said anything original in this post. Other effective altruists have made this point repeatedly. But it is nevertheless an important one: although in giving we wind up with less money, we gain in happiness. It is one of the best trades I can imagine. I hope that as more people realize this, the decision to pledge a share of one’s income to helping end global poverty will become an easier one.