In August, social media was filled with videos of celebrities, sports stars, and every day people dumping buckets of ice water over their heads. The publicity stunt was created to spread awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a condition more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and to raise money for research. Kids and adults alike took to the internet to post their videos and donate their money to the cause.

Giving back to charities provides more benefits than just the tangible fundraising that we expect. The viral nature of the Ice Water Challenge showed that many people are willing to donate their time and their money as long as they have knowledge of the cause. The videos were heartwarming and encouraging at the same time.

September 5th, 2014 is the International Day of Charity.

This day, established by the United Nations (UN) offers individuals from across the globe a chance to stand up and make a difference. To recognize the role of charity in alleviating poverty and suffering around the world, the UN declared an International Day of Charity on the anniversary of the death of Mother Teresa, a notable humanitarian. The UN invites all of their member states as well as other organizations around the globe to commemorate the day by encouraging charity and providing education and public awareness.

How does charity benefit communities?

On the surface, charity is a simple concept. Even in the United States, there is rampant poverty and not everyone has the means or tools to improve their situations. In developing nations there is still such a massive income disparity that while some people are living extravagant lifestyles, children are still begging for food in the streets. We are bombarded with images of third world nations where war and poverty is ravaging their entire population. At every level we can help make the world a better place by donating our time, our money, or our resources.

Since no one can possibly donate or participate in all charitable activities, it is important to determine what is most important to you and work toward making a difference in that area on days like the International Day of Charity.

How does charity benefit families?

It is also important that parents and schools work with children so they understand the value of charity. Providing school lunches to kids who would not otherwise be able to afford food is just one way the nation’s schools are working to end hunger for our children.

It is essential that parents teach their own children about the challenges other people face in the U.S. and the world and provide positive solutions that you can do as a family to make an impact. You may volunteer in your community or encourage kids to save part of their weekly allowance for charitable causes.

Talk with your kids in an age appropriate way about what you can do as a family and what they can do as individuals to improve the lives of people in their own communities and around the world.

How does charity benefit individuals?

It is easy to see how charity directly benefits individuals suffering with poverty or life threatening situations. But have you thought much about how charity affects the person being charitable?

First, it can help you stay connected with the important issues of the day. Charity is often a keystone of religious or spiritual practice and so it may provide you with a sense of joy based on your beliefs. Volunteering can help you engage with your community and make valuable connections. It can also keep you active.

In 2009 the Harvard Business School published a report about the benefits of giving to charity. This research has been a jumping off point for other organizations to promote charitable giving in the community and around the world. The researchers were looking into whether or not the anecdotal psychology about giving being good for you was true or just new-age feel good advice. They wanted to know if giving to charity was actually responsible for happiness or if happy people were simply more likely to give to charity.

In fact, their researched seemed to indicate that both were true.

Happy people did donate more time and money to charitable causes but also that act of donating money helped make people happy. The idea is that happiness may be cyclical. Researchers noted that:

“To investigate whether this happiness boost led participants to select a prosocial spending choice in the future, we used the purchase amount (twenty or one-hundred dollars), purchase target (oneself or others), and happiness to predict future spending choices. In line with our hypothesis, happiness was the only significant predictor of future spending choice, suggesting that participants made happier by recalling a previous purchase for someone else were significantly more likely to choose to engage in prosocial spending in the future. Further, mediational analyses confirm that other-oriented spending memories only fostered future prosocial spending choices to the extent that these recollections increase happiness levels in the interim.”

Regardless of the chicken or egg argument, charity is good for everyone involved in the cycle. Not only does giving to charity or volunteering your time benefit the recipients, but it also helps you stay positive, active, and engaged. These traits are great for everyone, including individuals dealing with chronic pain conditions.

How you can give back

Like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, there are several ways that you can donate to a worthy charity that would benefit others with chronic pain conditions. And you can do it without pouring a bucket of ice over your head and releasing a video on the internet.

Here are some worthwhile organizations for you to consider donating to on the International Day of Charity:

If you’re not able to make a charitable contribution on the International Day of Charity, you may consider volunteering for an organization in your area. Food banks frequently seek volunteers to help sort and stock food. Your religious community may also have ideas on projects their members can take on within the community. The important part is to do whatever you can, however you can, to benefit others.

How will you be giving back on September 5th for the International Day of Charity?  

Image by Howard Lake via Flickr


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