From the Editor: Giving, Sex and Other Surprises

We know philanthropists give. But you might be surprised by what they get in return.

By Pam Daniel September 1, 2015 Published in the September 2015 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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Over the years, we’ve conducted all sorts of studies about our readers; and honestly, we thought we knew just about everything about you. You’re smart, well-educated, successful, socially engaged—and head-over-heels in love with Sarasota, Fla.

But the data analysts at Media Audit, which surveys media audiences all across the United States, just told us something that stopped us in our tracks. Between February 2012 and April 2013, some 155,399 readers of Sarasota Magazine gave more than $386 million to nonprofits. Three hundred and eighty-six million dollars—and that was in just one year!


As we’ve reported before in this annual Guide to Giving, Sarasota is gaining a national reputation for exceptional philanthropy. We knew that many of you were at the forefront of that giving, but it’s inspiring to learn just how generous you are. And now that Media Audit has put us in a research state of mind, we thought we’d do a little more digging for you, our audience of philanthropists. We know that your giving does wonders for our community—but just what does it do for you?


Let’s start with what might be the most surprising finding. After a certain level, money doesn’t make you happier. True, people who have to struggle just to survive do report they’re unhappy. But once your basic needs are met—which these days takes an income of about $75,000 a year, say researchers—you don’t get much happier with increased wealth. That’s especially true if you’re spending that extra money on clothes, cars and other tangible objects. People who spend on lifestyle and experiences, on the other hand, often say it does make them happier.


What makes you happier than spending money on yourself is giving it away. A University of Chicago survey found that givers were almost 50 percent more likely than nongivers to describe themselves as “very happy”; nongivers were 3.5 times likelier to say they were “not happy at all.” Of course, that might not really mean giving causes happiness—it could be that happy people tend to be generous, and miserable people are stingy. But other studies do indeed establish causality.


In one, people were given some money and asked to choose between spending it on themselves or giving it away. Spending the money on themselves barely affected their happiness; spending it on others raised it significantly. In another study, researchers asked people to perform five kind actions a week. After six weeks, participants scored higher for happiness than they had at the beginning. Some scientists believe philanthropic acts release endorphins and the hormone oxytocin, which activate the area of the brain associated with pleasure and trust, causing euphoria and a feeling of deep connection—a kind of “giver’s high.” In fact, it turns out you can feel happier just by imagining doing something philanthropic—the very thought releases those chemicals.


Giving makes you live longer. In a study of 2,000 older Americans over a decade, those who volunteered for two or more causes were 56 percent more likely to live to the end of the study than people in identical health who didn’t volunteer. Other research shows that giving improves the health of people with chronic illness and can reduce blood pressure.


Giving makes you richer. After economist Arthur C. Brooks noticed that big donors seemed to keep getting wealthier, he analyzed statistical data, which revealed that the more people give away in one year, the more they’ll earn the next.


Giving makes you better looking. Or at least it makes people think you’re better looking. In a 2009 study, women watched videos of a man interacting with a beggar; the more money he gave the beggar, the better-looking they rated him. And that leads us to the final benefit of giving—from no less an expert than Sarasota über-philanthropist Betty Schoenbaum. Betty, who’s more vital and fun in her 90s than most of us ever were as teenagers, often speaks to groups about the joy she’s received from giving. Then she leans in, winks and says, “I’ll tell you something else—philanthropists have better sex!”


To read past From the Editor columns, click here. >>

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