Editorial: A present to give – and receive

Published: 12/8/2017 12:05:04 AM

December is a time of giving and receiving, with the latter occupying the dreams of most children as they count down the days to Christmas morning. But with maturity, the scales shift and the feel-good adage “It is better to give than to receive” becomes truth.

This is the season when charity takes center stage, and it is up to each of us to determine how to give in the most meaningful way possible. The answer to that query is found within.

Ask yourself what kinds of news stories affect you the most. Are you particularly moved when you read about global hunger? Climate change? Homelessness? Child abuse? Animal neglect? Whatever the answer, there is a reputable charity – whether local, national or international – that represents the issue you are most passionate about.

Once you have determined what cause is closest to your heart, it’s important to put in the research to find a nonprofit that you trust to spend your money efficiently and effectively. For local charities, that might mean listening to word of mouth, searching for mentions in the news, making phone calls or paying a visit. Two websites, GuideStar and Charity Navigator, are also good resources for evaluating the legitimacy, transparency, and financial and tax status of charities. Both sites offer free registration and easy navigation, with keyword searches that can be refined by geography, size, scope of work, etc. Type in “homelessness” on GuideStar, for example, and you will get 75 hits for New Hampshire. Clicking on an individual charity gives you access to basic information as well as documents related to finances and operations.

Whatever methods of research you use, Money magazine lists five red flags to be on the lookout for: the organization doesn’t have a website; you’re being pressured to donate over the phone; you can’t get answers to questions; few dollars are spent on the actual cause; and you are discouraged from stopping by.

Once you settle on the charity or charities that deserve your hard-earned money, all that’s left to do is make the donation – and reap the health benefits.

Studies have shown that charitable giving isn’t a one-way street. Those who open their hearts and wallets can expect a boost in seasonal joy, for sure, but also improvements to blood pressure, self esteem, depression, anxiety and stress. Scientists have actually observed the effect giving has on the brain’s pleasure centers, and it’s similar to sex and chocolate.

Researcher Stephen G. Post told U.S. News and World Report that philanthropy “doles out several different happiness chemicals, including dopamine, endorphins that give people a sense of euphoria and oxytocin, which is associated with tranquility, serenity or inner peace.” But the only way to trigger the release of those chemicals through giving is to give in a way that is personally meaningful, and that means throwing a dart at a list of charities just won’t cut it.

WalletHub ranks New Hampshire as the 13th most charitable state in the nation. Based on the generosity we have witnessed with our own eyes over many holiday seasons and in so many communities, the ranking seems a bit low. But this month, let’s accept it as a challenge.

Let’s all give wisely and meaningfully until the endorphins runneth over.

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