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The Best Ways to Give

by Beth on August 13th, 2013

Adam Grant is a professor at Wharton whose research I have been interested in for years. He recently wrote a book, Give and Take, where he summarizes much of what he has learned from his studies and similar research. In it he identifies three different reciprocity styles: takers, who like to get more than they give; givers, who prefer to give more than they get; and matchers, who try to balance giving and getting. His overall finding is that givers are the worst performers and the best performers, with takers and matchers falling in the middle.

How can that be? It turns out that there are two kinds of givers: selfless givers who care only about the interests of others and otherish givers who care about helping others, but are also concerned with their own well-being. Otherish givers are less likely to burnout and more likely to flourish.

Adam identifies some key giving strategies that otherish givers use:

1) Chunking – Givers who chunk their giving by doing a lot of it at once are happier than those who spread their giving out over time. Doing five acts of kindness one day a week makes your giving more salient than doing the same five acts across five days. Setting aside chunks of time to help others also lets you conserve time to attend to your own interests.

2) 100-hour rule – One study found that people who volunteer between 100 and 800 hours per year are happiest. So volunteering at least two hours a week seems to be the sweet spot that maximizes energy and engagement while minimizing burnout.

3) Passion – People derive the greatest amount of satisfaction from giving when they help others out of a sense of enjoyment and purpose. Otherish givers are careful to choose causes that they feel are important; that are meaningful to them.

4) Seek support – Givers also avoid burnout by soliciting the help of others. They understand the importance of social support for their own well-being and actively seek the support of others when they start to feel burned out.

There is no doubt about it: giving makes us happy. As the saying goes, “giving is its own reward”. But giving in the wrong way can lead to burnout. Follow Grant’s advice and you will reap the rewards of giving while avoiding the potential downsides.

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