Why Giving Back Matters Now More Than Ever

The opportunities for charitable giving are everywhere — and even the smallest action has well-being benefits you might not expect.

Bogdan Sonjachnyj/Shutterstock
Bogdan Sonjachnyj/Shutterstock

Even if you weren’t regularly giving back before the COVID-19 pandemic, going beyond yourself and stepping out of your comfort zone to serve others may be a top priority right now. It’s no coincidence that we’re hearing so much about people helping their communities during this time — people rally together during crises and the best of humanity shows up. In fact, even as Americans are losing their jobs and going through their own suffering, nonprofits are seeing a huge wave of generosity. As the late Fred Rogers of ”Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Today, there are plenty of givers to be seen.

With so much suffering and loss across the globe, giving back matters more than ever, Emily Greenfield, Ph.D., an associate professor of Social Work at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, tells Thrive. “For many people, caring for others is a fundamental human response to stress. It can benefit others and ourselves, especially under times of threat,” she says. And it’s true: Giving is one of the most effective and proven ways to boost our well-being, as transformative for us as it is for the recipient. 

Knowing we are making a difference has a positive impact on both our physical health and mental well-being; it can even boost our motivation and resilience during times of hardship. In her research, Greenfield has found that “caring for others can be especially important for the psychological well-being of helpers as they themselves experience life challenges, such as declining physical health or loss of social roles through work and family.”

Interested in giving back but not sure where to begin? Here are six ideas to get you started:

Think local

While people across the globe need help right now, there are ways to help right within your local community. For example, you might consider contributing to a local food pantry or taking toilet paper over to a neighbor’s house. “You can see the results of that concrete action and the good that came of it. It gives us a feeling of mastery and control when there is so much uncertainty,” says Greenfield. Giving back to the community has evolutionary roots, says Greenfield. “Early humans found that by bonding with their clan, they would be able to survive basic threats.”  

Send gratitude 

Sending supportive emails and texts, and writing letters to those you appreciate is a great way to connect and express gratitude — which is an act of giving. Michelle Obama took to Twitter to suggest writing to first responders: “A handwritten letter, a social media post, or a simple ‘thank you’ text can go a long way in showing our appreciation for these heroes among us.” And “Saturday Night Live” star Heidi Gardner posted on Instagram that she is sending cards to nursing homes across the United States, asking people around the world to do the same. Many people at residential homes or those living alone would probably welcome a friendly personal note during these times.

Offer your skills

With so much giving happening remotely these days, it’s easier than ever to take to go online to use your skills to give back — whether that’s by teaching yoga, tutoring kids in math, offering cooking or knitting classes, etc. We especially love the example set by the actor John Krasinski, who tapped into his ability to make people smile by creating the uplifting YouTube show, Some Good News. The lesson: Think outside the box.

Donate to #FirstRespondersFirst

As frontline healthcare workers step forward to address this epic public health challenge, they need our help. Consider giving through the #FirstRespondersFirst fund, an initiative from Thrive Global, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the CAA Foundation, in which donations provide healthcare workers with the physical and psychological resources they so desperately need.

Recognize how you are already giving back 

“If you are caring for your children, or checking in on co-workers, don’t discount those actions,” says Greenfield, reminding us that the ways we show up every day count as “giving”. She also adds that the very act of following social distancing mandates is a way of giving back — “minimizing your exposure to the virus protects everyone around you.” 

Spread positive energy

“Just as kindness can be contagious, anxiety and stress can be contagious too,” says Greenfield. While noting that we all need to express our fears and concerns, she says it’s not helpful to dwell on the negative, like reports online about the virus that may not be reputable. “Don’t risk becoming a source of stress to others.” Try to be encouraging and kind. “When we’re telling other people to be kind to themselves, to practice acceptance and be forgiving of their faults in these unusual times, we’re in effect reminding ourselves to do that too.”

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