This is part of an ongoing series on happiness. I’m going to continue sharing everyday moments, experiences, and activities where I feel most happy. Since I believe the pursuit of happiness is something that binds humanity, and since one of the major reasons to attain financial freedom in the first place is to improve one’s happiness, I find it important to share aspects of my life where I feel like the pursuit of happiness is most successful. I hope to show through these regular insights that not only does it not take much (or any) money to improve one’s happiness but also that financial freedom provides additional opportunities (via more time) to boost happiness.
Becoming a philanthropist wasn’t part of my dream growing up.
I always thought of philanthropists as rich, old people.
It’s something a millionaire or billionaire does to get their name etched on a wing of a school or a library. Fame isn’t interesting to me, so none of this has ever seemed very appealing.
Moreover, I wasn’t ever sure I’d have enough money to live a decent lifestyle, let alone have enough to give away. Growing up extremely poor substantially lowered my future expectations, probably to a point where I sold myself short for a number of years.
But I’m not old. I’m not rich. And I’m still not interested in fame.
Yet I am a philanthropist.
I’m now in a unique position in my early 30s. I own my own time, which is the ultimate luxury good. There’s no commodity as valuable as time, so to own as much as I do at this age feels wonderful. I’m blessed. And I’m very much aware that I’m part of the 1%.
With all this newfound time, I spend much of it reading. A lot of the material I’ve consumed over the last, say, year or so has been around the subject of happiness.
The pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right, yet it continues to mystify a large percentage of people all over the world.
As such, it’s become a bit of a goal of mine to understand and harness happiness as much as possible. If one doesn’t maximize their happiness while they’re alive, I’m not sure that’s a life well lived. And what is life’s purpose if not to be happy?
While that sounds cliche and selfish, the amazing thing about happiness is that it’s inherently unselfish.
That’s right. I subscribe to the notion that happiness is the joy one feels when they’re striving toward their potential.
Well, famed psychologist Abraham Maslow believed that one’s ultimate potential as a human being is met when one realizes self-actualization, with the upper limits of self-actualization reached by way of self-transcendence. Self-transcendence is accomplished by giving oneself to a purpose that’s higher than oneself, such as altruism. (Other examples of self-transcendence would be spirituality and child rearing, though I personally have no interests in either.)
So if personal happiness’s upper bounds are only reached when one looks beyond oneself, the pursuit of happiness is actually quite unselfish. If anything, the pursuit of happiness is the only logical pursuit in life, as it benefits oneself and those around them when it’s pursued to its upper reaches.
Giving this great thought and reflection has led me to the conclusion that philanthropy is thus the end game for my entire life. And because I am a bit selfish and want to reap some of the rewards of increased personal happiness all the way along, giving while living is the only type of giving that makes sense to me.
And so I started giving away a little money about a year ago. I plan to slowly increase this giving for years to come. I view philanthropy/giving a lot like investing: small, incremental amounts can lead to radical and amazing results over longer periods of time. While the results are measured differently (business gains are far more objective than human progression), they’re both nonetheless just as exciting to me.
The ultimate plan for me is to spend the majority of the last 1/3 or so of my life on philanthropy. While much of the giving will be focused around money, I also see an opportunity to give time away once it’s worth less to me (as an older man). Again, I admit that I am a bit selfish in some regards, and withholding time rather than money while I’m still young is an example of that. However, I’m extremely excited for the overall change I can effect over the course of my life, be it through money or time.
So that leaves me with the other 2/3 of my life, and that also leaves me with hope that I live a long, full life. That 2/3 of my life will be spent building up resources and having fun all along the way. I’ve thus far been incredibly successful at this, and I’m really grateful for it.
My view on the building and giving away of resources somewhat mirrors Warren Buffett, in that I believe my ability to compound money over the long haul will serve humanity better than if I just give away everything I can now. Of course, pressing needs for various causes are ever-present, so I’m trying to balance a little bit of the near term with the long term.
But it’ll be a lot like spending my whole life building a sandcastle, playing in the sun. It’s going to be the biggest and best sandcastle I can possibly build. There’s going to be a huge moat around this sandcastle to protect it. It’ll be majestic. And I’ll be so proud of it when it’s complete. Meanwhile, the whole process is just going to be so much fun.
However, there’s no way I could ignore that the sandcastle will be way too big for just me. It would be nigh impossible to enjoy the entire thing by myself. In my view, it’d be far more fun and rewarding if others could also find value, happiness, and improved quality of life from what I built. And through that, I’ll be far, far happier than I would if I were spending all my time with my sandcastle alone.
And so I’m going to sign my own version of the Giving Pledge via this article (since I’m not rich enough to qualify for the real one): I hereby pledge to give away at least half of my wealth on or (preferably) before my death.
But because my biggest hero in the world of philanthropy is probably Charles Feeney, I’m not really going to talk much more about this. This is the first article I’ve ever devoted to the subject of philanthropy. And it’ll likely be the last.
I plan to quietly give away a little money over the coming years, substantially ramping up the giving somewhere after my 60th birthday. This money will go to causes that are important to me. I have five general categories for giving: sick children, animals, local needs, nature, and urban planning/preservation.
Much like Feeney, I’m going to do my best to time the giving so that I’ve given away everything I can before I die, leaving my older self with just enough money to live off of.
However, that’s just my plan. What you plan to do with your money is completely up to you.
The great thing about philanthropy, though, is that it doesn’t take very much money to become a philanthropist and reap the rewards of self-transcendence. You can give $100 per year to your favorite charity and feel great about the change and hope you’re effecting. A little goes a long way for many people in this world.
Much like all of the other things that make me happy (like animals, exercise, and sleeping in), philanthropy costs very little. And that’s kind of a repetitive theme you’ll notice with my writing: I spend very little money, yet I’m much happier than I ever was when I was spending way more money. The major expense is actually just getting to financial independence in the first place (as time itself is so valuable and expensive), which then allows one to have the time to enjoy all of these low-cost activities.
Philanthropy, however, is arguably better than any of them. It’s almost completely selfless, it takes very little time, and one doesn’t even need to be financially independent to engage in it. As such, it is probably my favorite building block of my own personal happiness.
Growing up as a poor kid in Detroit, I never thought I’d be here. And my younger self always enjoyed receiving more than giving. But I’ve come to realize that giving truly is better than receiving. And my fortunate situation in life allows me to play in the sun, build a great sandcastle, and share my good fortune with my fellow man. If I’m able to improve the human condition in some small way through that – and be personally happier for it – I can’t reasonably pass that opportunity up.
What about you? Plan to become a philanthropist? Already a philanthropist? Enjoy giving to those who have far less?
Thanks for reading.
Image courtesy of: hadkhanong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.