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Why give now?

Done wisely, we'll save lives – and wind up happier.

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At home, social-services groups and charities face enormous budget shortfalls just as demand is intensifying. Abroad, systemic increases in food prices have pushed the number of people facing starvation to nearly 1 billion.

In normal times, American generosity is legendary. Between 65 and 85 percent of families make charitable donations every year. In 2003, the average donated was more than $1,800. But in the midst of a financial crisis, a seized-up economy, home foreclosures, and half a million jobs lost last month alone, how can Americans be expected to just … ?

Because helping those in the greatest need – either through private giving or public aid – is not only the right thing to do, it's also in our singular best interest.

Research shows that people who give just wind up happier than those who don't. In a study of survey data from 30,000 people, Arthur Brooks of Syracuse University in New York found that people who gave to any charity were 43 percent more likely than non-givers to report being "very happy." They were 68 percent less likely to report having felt "hopeless."

There even appears to be a multiplier effect. Katherine Carman of Tilberg University in the Netherlands found that people seated in cubicles near people who give actually become generous. "Economic theory says I should want to free ride on other people's contributions," she said. "But in real life, we live in social groups. My research shows that if you give more, I will give more."

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