How Good Deeds Make Happier Kids by Rabbi Jay Goldmintz

How Good Deeds Make Happier Kids by Rabbi Jay Goldmintz

Scene 1: You are walking down the street and a stranger comes up to you and gives you an envelope. Inside there is a $20 bill and a slip of paper which tells you to spend the cash on something for yourself by the end of the day.

Scene 2: You are walking down the street and a stranger comes up to you and gives you an envelope. Inside there is a $20 bill and a slip of paper which tells you to spend the cash on someone else.

Which scenario will result in your being happier?

The answer according to a couple of researchers is counter-intuitive – people who experienced the second scenario reported being happier.

Apparently people are happier when they are spending money on others rather than on themselves. (“Don’t Indulge, Be Happy.” NY Times 7/8/12)

I’ll leave it to you to explain why this is so. For our purposes, the experiment highlights the importance of giving, something that I think we need to encourage our kids to do more of. Even if the stereotype of a narcissistic materialistic generation is untrue, there is much to be said about the dangers of so-called “affluenza” a disease characterized by entitlement and a rather narrow view of the world.

Giving has a way of pushing us beyond ourselves, often beyond our own immediate comfort zone, to make room for the concerns and needs of others which, in turn, gives us a better perspective on our own lives.

Richard Weissbourd, professor and author of a book I recommend called The Parents We Mean to Be maintains that schools and parents have been too preoccupied for the last decade or so with making kids feel good about themselves (=being happy) without also instructing them sufficiently about how to make others feel good.

It’s as if we assumed that if we made kids feel good, they would be good. In fact, he says, if there is indeed a correlation, then it goes the other way; being good often leads to being happy.

In a similar vein, Rav Eliyahu Dessler (1892-1930 Michtav M’Eliyahu) wrote that we have a tendency to believe that we give to those we love; first you love someone which then inspires you to want to give to them. But in fact the contrary is true, says Rav Dessler; the more you give someone, the more you come to love them. In marriage, it generally happens that the more that we give, the more we want to give, the more selfless we become, and the deeper and greater our love for one another grows. Giving leads to love.

The researchers mentioned above replicated their experiment with very young children using goldfish crackers instead of cash. They claimed that the children showed they were happiest when they gave some of their newfound wealth to a newfound friend – a puppet named Monkey.

We need to give our kids as many opportunities as possible to be givers and not takers. For the benefits of being a giver are great. Givers tend to be happier and healthier and find more meaning in life.

In one study, elderly individuals who volunteered had a 40% lower probability of death in a given year than others in a control group.

In adolescents, volunteering has been found to improve social competence, self-esteem, lower levels of substance abuse and a decrease of anti-social behaviors, to name but a few.

In addition to all else, though, for the religious person giving is a gateway to becoming much more grateful, appreciative of what we have rather than focusing exclusively on what we want, and understanding that everything in our lives is ultimately a gift from God.

This post is an abridged version of the original article

Rabbi Dr. Jay Goldmintz is Headmaster at Ramaz Upper School in New York City. He has contributed to a number of publications on issues related to curriculum, tefillah and the religious development of children and adolescents. To receive his weekly “Soul of Parenting” articles, please Email jay@ramaz.org

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