If you haven't settled on a New Year's resolution for this year, allow me to suggest one: charitable giving.
According to the 2007 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, almost 23 million Canadians donated a total of $10 billion that year. Almost 12.5 million gave the gift of time by volunteering, while 84% of Canadian adults provided direct help to others living outside their households.
Why do so many people give money, time and assistance to others?
There are many good reasons to give, not least of which is how it will make you feel. Simply put, giving makes people happier. According to a 2009 working paper by Harvard Business School and University of British Columbia researchers entitled Feeling Good about Giving, charitable giving "leads to similar brain activity in regions implicated in the experience of pleasure and reward." In addition, students asked to commit "random acts of kindness" report increased happiness levels compared to control groups.
Of course, giving is also good for recipients. It can provide the needy with food, shelter, human warmth or medical care. Or it can take the form of scholarships for deserving students. Or it can allow researchers to pursue their investigations, increasing the store of human knowledge and leading to life-enhancing discoveries and inventions.
Despite the power of free markets to increase our wealth and well-being, people can fall on hard times through no fault of their own, and the benefits of wealth creation may not materialize for them until much further down the road. Thus, private charity has an essential role to play in filling such needs. And without it, the rhetoric for ever-expanding and ever-more intrusive welfare state schemes can only gain ground.
Personally, I donate to several charities. My favourite is Kiva.org, a non-profit organization that helps fight poverty around the world. Kiva connects lenders and borrowers around the world through a global network of microfinance institutions, encouraging entrepreneurship and self-reliance. Since it was founded in 2005, Kiva has granted almost $400 million in loans from nearly a million lenders, and has a spectacular 99% repayment rate.
But whatever your favourite cause, consider giving in 2013, or consider giving more. It will be good for you, good for the recipients, and good for society.
Michel Kelly-Gagnon is president of the Montreal Economic Institute (www.iedm.org). The views reflected in this column are his own.