Giving back feels good


Learn the feel-good science behind giving, and find out how you can be more charitable regardless of your financial situation.

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Bright Dickson (00:06):

Hey everybody, and welcome to our podcast, where we offer tips on how to build financial confidence and live a happier, more positive life. I'm your cohost, Bright Dickson here with my favorite finance nerd, Brian Ford. Last episode we got into what you can and can't control in your finances and how understanding that can lead to less stress and greater happiness. This episode is all about giving back. We'll explore the actual happiness boost we get while doing things for others and how we can all contribute, even when money is tight. Ready, Brian?

Brian Ford (00:36):

Yeah, let's do it.

Bright Dickson (00:42):

Okay, so it's the holidays and a lot of people are thinking about end of year donations among all the other seasonal financial topics. And we can be charitable in the light of any financial situation and how it can actually make us feel good biologically when we help others. So we get a payoff too when we help others. So, Brian, when you think about giving back and the science of financial generosity and generosity in general, why should we factor giving into our financial planning? Isn't it something that if we have extra money, then we should give? Should we plan for it or should we just do it spontaneously?

Brian Ford (01:26):

I'll tell you, there's some really cool research about giving and the correlation between giving and actually doing well with your finances, it's quite fascinating. First of all, look, you got to put on your financial nerd hat, because there's no doubt you're going to get a break on taxes. So let's start there, got to get a little nerdy, I'm not saying that's why we do it. But the research is also really cool that those who give back actually better manage their money.

Brian Ford (01:52):

We all work really hard for our money, we get our money and we're like, "Ah, I worked hard for this." And then when you give a little bit of it away, it is a sacrifice, but then when you look at your remaining assets, you actually manage those better. And the research is quite fascinating there, people who give are less likely to make mistakes with their money. If you're a giver, you're way less likely to be that individual that's staying up in the middle of the night, watching cable television, get rich quick scheme, silliness, because you know what money means to you and you are a giver, which is really cool.

Brian Ford (02:26):

But besides all the research, giving back just feels so dang good. I wish I did it more often. I'm committing to doing it a little bit more often. In fact, this happened not too long ago, but I was at a little fast casual Chinese restaurant and I was in line ready to order, and I was trying to figure out if I wanted rice or noodles. I usually end up going with half, half just because I like to diversify. By the way that was a finance joke, Bright. I don't know if you got that or not, but-

Bright Dickson (02:59):

I got it, but then I was like, "Did I get it," and thank you for confirming.

Brian Ford (03:02):

Anyways, I noticed this big guy behind me, he was with his wife and two kids. He was wearing a military uniform, and I don't always think this, and I certainly don't always do this, but in that moment I felt very grateful for what that uniform stands for. And I simply turned around and I said, "Hey, sorry to bother you. I just want to say thanks for everything that you do. I've got a family and we sure appreciate your service, thank you." And then we started chatting, and in that conversation, I said, "Would you mind if I buy you and your family lunch today, just by my way of saying thanks?" And they graciously accepted and they sat down on one end of the restaurant and started to eat and I sat down on the other end.

Brian Ford (03:39):

And as I began to eat, I just had this really good feeling inside, I felt great. I'm not sure if I was feeling good because of what I had just done, I think I was mainly feeling good inside because I love [inaudible 00:03:51] chicken, but I was feeling good. And I finished my meal, I thought that was that. I started to walk out to my car in the parking lot and his wife came running out after me. She shouted, and then she caught up and she said, "Look, I'm glad I caught you. You left sooner than I thought." And then tears began to roll down her cheeks. And she said, "You would have never known this, but we just picked him up, and this was our first meal together as a family in quite a long time." And she said, "He does make significant sacrifices and we love him for it, and he is our kid's hero." And then she said, "I'm just glad that other people feel the same way about him, that we do."

Brian Ford (04:31):

And then she gave me a big bear hug and we said, goodbye. I sat down in my car and I felt fantastic. I'm pretty sure it was the same feeling that a millionaire gets after donating a bunch of money to a wonderful cause that's going to make the world a better place. I'm pretty sure it was the same feeling. And that day it cost me like 27 bucks or whatever. I do find that feeling though, interesting, Bright. I don't know really what's behind it, I don't know really what the science is there. Is there an actual physical change in the body when we help others? What's going on?

Bright Dickson (05:10):

Yeah, there is. So when our brains produce the thought, "I did something good," or "I helped someone," it actually causes our brain to release a set of hormones, including serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, all of those, what are known as feel-good hormones. And oxytocin is actually our primary bonding hormone. So when we do something good, we get that dump of good chemicals, and it creates that warm, fuzzy feeling in our bodies, where we feel like the warm fuzzies or even a sense of lightness that feels really good and should feel really good. And the reason is it helps us repeat that behavior. So we want to go back and do that again, and then that way it's like a really positive kind of addiction. We also know that people who give of themselves regularly also experience things like lower blood pressure. So if you volunteer on a regular basis-

Brian Ford (06:08):


Bright Dickson (06:08):

Yeah, it actually helps your heart literally and figuratively, which I think is really interesting.

Brian Ford (06:18):

I literally and figuratively have high cholesterol, and I worry about my heart.

Bright Dickson (06:20):

Well, it sounds like you need to do a little more giving.

Brian Ford (06:23):

I know, I don't know what's going on.

Bright Dickson (06:25):

It is really interesting that our bodies and brains, we tend to think of them as different things, but they're not. Our brain lives in our bodies and it's all one unit working in this crazy symphony and what we do really matters to our body, not just in terms of exercise, and diet, and that kind of thing, but the way we operate in the world really matters. And last episode, we did a little gratitude practice. And one thing that we also know is that people who practice gratitude actually tend to be more generous than people who don't. And so, when we know what we have and we have that really solid feeling of, "I know the good things," it frees us up a little bit to be able to give more to others.

Brian Ford (07:12):

I love that. I know you and I have talked about this subject before, and I'm on the money side, and I just told a story about using my money to better the world. And by the way, I will mention it, that story when I was at that little Chinese restaurant, that was my best self, that's not always the way I am. I need podcasts like this, I need discussions like this with friends to remind me really what life is all about. So I appreciate this conversation today, but I do remember when you and I were talking about this before that you were poking at me a little bit and you were like, "Hey Brian, you're the money guy." And I was talking about giving and I kept giving examples about money, but what does giving really mean? When we talk about it, are we just talking about donating money to charities or what's the other things? Because you challenged my thinking on this one time when we were chatting. Tell me a little bit more about your thoughts on, is it just about money or is there other ways to do this?

Bright Dickson (08:01):

So a friend of mine's dad taught me this a number of years ago, because I think I was getting a little snarky about donations for some reason, because I was 20 and I didn't have any money to give anybody, I needed people to give money to me. So I was getting a little snarky about that and he was like, "Well, Bright, it's not just about money." And he's like, "The way that people think of this, a good way to think of it is that you've got the three T's. So you've got, you can give your time, you can give your talent and you can give your treasure." So when were talking about treasure, the easiest way to think about that is money, financial donation, but you can donate your time as well.

Bright Dickson (08:43):

So that looks like, for me, a way that I donated time this year was raising money for something that I felt really passionate about. So I was calling other people and asking them to donate. It was really just my time because I don't have much talent in that area cause it makes me real nervous, I don't like it, but I did donate my time.

Brian Ford (09:00):


Bright Dickson (09:01):

You can also donate your talent. So if you're really good at something, you can use those talents that aren't costing you anything right now and share them with others. So one example of all of this rolled into one is, my neighborhood has been pretty COVID aware. Everybody's wearing masks, everybody's social distancing, that kind of thing, but there's one woman in my neighborhood who is a seamstress. And I don't think she does it professionally, it's just something she's been doing for a long time.

Bright Dickson (09:31):

And starting in about April, we started getting these emails on our listserv that said, "The mask tree is going to be up this Sunday." So what she does is she does this once a month, she spends the month making all of these different masks and all of these different cute fabrics, and she puts them on a tree out in her yard one Sunday, every month. And she says, "Come and get them." And so, she's really hitting all of those three of time, talent and treasure. So it takes her time to make them, she has this talent that I frankly don't have, I can barely sew a button on.

Brian Ford (10:10):

I'm with you.

Bright Dickson (10:12):

It's not my skillset. And it's not free for her, she has to buy fabric, and elastic, and all of that stuff, but she does it, and that's her giving in all three of those ways at once. So we don't have to think of it as just a financial donation, but how else can you use your time and talent to help others where there's need?

Brian Ford (10:34):

That's a great story. I'm not going to tell my wife about that story, she's going to sneak into your neighborhood and [inaudible 00:10:40]. When we roll into the grocery store and I'm like, "Where's my mask?" She's like, "I got you covered." She pulls out a bag and there's like 23 different masks accessorizing. I can pick the one that literally matches what I'm wearing, and I'm like, "Sweetie, seriously?" She's like, "Well, you're the one who forgot it. I got you covered anyways." I'm not telling my wife-

Bright Dickson (11:00):

Good thing you've got her.

Brian Ford (11:00):

... about the mask tree, she'll be jumping into your neighborhood that Sunday. When I think about giving, is it something that should be spontaneous, or is there a strategy to it? Do you have a giving strategy, Bright, or is this something that you save till the end of the year? What do you do? Is there such a thing as a giving strategy?

Bright Dickson (11:27):

I think there should be. I've never formalized this really until we talked about it, and I really thought through how do I do this? So I've given a lot of spontaneous donations this year, small amounts, but a lot of them just because there's been so much spontaneous need. But in normal years, I give to certain organizations every month and I automated. I'm taking your advice to heart, Brian, so I automated and I give $25 a month to my summer camp, and I give $10 a month to my local public radio station, and they just take it right out of my account, just like my bill pay or any other automation.

Bright Dickson (12:11):

And so, it's factored into my budget already, and it doesn't seem like huge amounts but it does add up over the year. I'm not a great saver, so the idea that I'm going to be able to do big donations and do all the Christmas stuff that I like to do with presence to family, decorations, all of that, it does add up. So for me, giving throughout the year is a good strategy, it works for me.

Brian Ford (12:42):

That's crazy that you've actually taken one of my financial principles, applied it to giving. What's nuts about that is I've never applied automation to giving.

Bright Dickson (12:50):

And the student becomes the master.

Brian Ford (12:53):

Oh, snap. I love it, I got to do more of that. Well, let me ask you this, if you automate giving, do you think it takes away a little bit from just the spontaneity? Does it help us, even those good feelings that we talked about? What are your thoughts on that? Is it too mechanical? I find this automation subject around giving fascinating. I haven't connected the two, so I'm just curious what your experience is.

Bright Dickson (13:17):

So with my experience, the organizations that I donate to regularly, when it goes through, they send me an email that says basically, "Thanks for your donation." And because I've set it and forget it, it's actually a nice little serotonin boost for me, because I'm like, "Oh yeah, look at me, doing good things, not even realizing it." So I get that email and I'm reminded of that. So I do get that little boost.

Bright Dickson (13:44):

The other thing that that automated giving does is that it helps the organization be able to do some financial planning for the year. So they know that I've committed to this, that I've pledged to this. So the more people they have giving on a regular monthly basis, the more accurate their budgeting can be. And a lot of these organizations-

Brian Ford (14:09):

You help in people budget.

Bright Dickson (14:11):

I know. Look at me, I'm learning so much, thanks to you, Brian. So I love that it helps them be able to feel more stable, and the nonprofit world can be really unstable sometimes. So I think it's good to help them in that way too. What do you do? Do you do spontaneous donations? How does that go?

Brian Ford (14:32):

Yeah, I'd say I'm a little bit of both. I do have my regular things in which I donate to that I've committed to just as an individual who wants to make the world a better place, and I try and stick to those annually. And then I try and be a little spontaneous as well. This year I'm doing something a little different. I didn't even plan on sharing this, but it just came to mind. I set a goal to build what I call these little hope kits. And I put some granola bars, some water, I even put my favorite book in there and a couple other things that are just good for folks.

Brian Ford (15:07):

And when I pull up to someone that I know is struggling and they're asking for money, I keep one of these in my car and I just pull it out and I give that to them. And I've been doing that this year, which has been a little bit different. And so that's a little bit of the plan plus spontaneity.

Bright Dickson (15:20):

I love that.

Brian Ford (15:21):

It's been really cool. I got my kids involved and I asked them if they wanted to join me and so forth. And so, just these little hope kits that we've been working on. So I'd say I'm a little bit of both. I will say that I'm trying to be better at the things that I do do regularly. I'm really trying to make those something of an experience. I make sure that I let my children know that I did donate regularly today, and what it means, and what that money represents and so forth. So we're trying to put some meaning behind some of the more automated regular giving, that's another thing that we've been trying to do as a family.

Bright Dickson (15:55):

When you give a hope kit, how does that interaction usually go? What's the interaction like with the other person?

Brian Ford (16:03):

I think it's been mixed. I think they're like, "What the heck? I was hoping for a 20 my man," but that's not always the case. In fact, that's normally not the case. Usually I get a nice big smile and a thank you. I will say, I got to be careful with my listeners here because this is my little secret. Inside my book, which just happens to be a book about wonderful folks who have done wonderful things in the world, and there's just little segments on lots of different people and what they've done. Anyways, I put an actual $20 bill inside the book.

Bright Dickson (16:33):

Oh, that's awesome.

Brian Ford (16:34):

So they actually have to open it up and start to crack that thing open and read it, and they'll actually find a little treasure inside as a symbolic treasure, and what the book can actually mean in their lives if they apply the information. But it's been a cool experience, and I think most people are certainly very grateful for it, it's been good.

Bright Dickson (16:50):

That's so cool. Every time I pull up to someone, I think like, "Oh, I wish I had something to give them," because I usually don't carry cash for whatever reason. And I love this idea, I might do a big box store run and see if I can put some hope kits together. What a great idea, Brian.

Brian Ford (17:05):

Ride on.

Bright Dickson (17:06):

So when you're looking at giving, how do you find causes to support? There's so many great organizations out there, there are so many amazing people doing amazing things, how do you choose?

Brian Ford (17:18):

I try and align my giving with my values, or in other words, just what's most important to me. And by the way, this is an important financial principle that we can apply to every aspect of our financial lives, not just our giving. I believe that everyone who starts out on their financial journey should be very clear and intentional about what they care most about in life, and they should get input from the others that they interact with as far as their loved ones, or if they're married, or have a partner, children, what matters most to us and then align your giving with those things, so that you know you're making a difference in the things that matter most to you.

Brian Ford (17:51):

And I think on a future episode, we'll probably come back to this idea of aligning our finances with our values, because there's really something there. One of the keys to finding happiness with our money is we got to stop spending it on things we don't really care about in life. And really the genesis of a good budget is spending money on the things we care about, but I'm getting ahead of myself. So I think when it comes toward giving, you want to align it with the things that matter most to you and your family.

Bright Dickson (18:15):

And Brian, what do you think of this? What if I feel like I don't have a lot of money to give right now, what are some things that I can do to contribute, to give back in this season if I'm not able to donate?

Brian Ford (18:32):

Well, I think it goes back to what you mentioned earlier, where you were talking about time and talents. Man, time is so precious. What can you do for somebody that just doesn't cost any money that will brighten their day, just little things? All kinds of little things that can be done. If you do live in an area where there's snow and so forth, I know some people have shoveled other people's walks when it snows and so forth. All these little things, even talents. I think sometimes we don't give ourselves credit enough for the things that we're good at and then just sharing those talents with others.

Brian Ford (19:04):

And there's things that we can do within our own family. This doesn't have to be big and grandiose. What is one thing that we can do for a family member, even if it's as simple as a text. What if it's as simple as a kind word, a genuine compliment. We underestimate our ability to make the world a better place. All of our actions certainly matter and it isn't always about money, there are certainly these little things that we can do.

Bright Dickson (19:29):

Absolutely. I think, checking in on people. Check in on your neighbors, especially if they're older. Go see how they're doing, that's really important. Make a meal. If you can cook, cook something for someone, make an extra serving and grab a Tupperware, and take it over. If you bake, bake a few extra cookies, that type of thing.

Brian Ford (19:52):

Cookies are my favorite. So if anyone wants to send me cookies, my address, I'm kidding. Look, Bright, I know we are out of time, we need to wrap it up. And so, I think that's going to be it for today. But in our next episode, we're going to take a deep dive into even more new year, new mindset type of mentality. How do you develop a growth mindset and evaluate our financial health relative to the new year. We really appreciate you joining us today. We hope you're feeling just a little bit happier. If you enjoyed our podcast, consider subscribing, or even dropping us a rating or a review, [inaudible 00:20:31] about it. We'd love to have more of us on this call listening this podcast. But look, I'm Brian. Bright, appreciate you being on as well, and we will see you all next time. Thanks everybody.

Bright Dickson (20:43):

Bye guys.


It’s all about paying it forward. In this episode of Money and Mindset With Bright and Brian, our hosts explain how everyone can do small but meaningful acts of kindness even when money is tight. They discuss the science of generosity and share personal stories that demonstrate how helping others can actually make you happier.Disclosure 1

Bright and Brian cover:

  • The happiness boost we experience from doing things for others.
  • Different ways to find causes to support.
  • How to create a “giving strategy” and stay organized.

Brian also tells a story about how a spontaneous moment of gratitude toward a U.S. service member changed his life.

Join happiness and financial experts Bright and Brian for a boost of positivity and to learn practical steps that can help you live a happier life.


If you enjoyed this podcast, subscribe or drop a rating or review in your podcast app of choice! Share it with your friends and family, too. 

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