Happiness and Philanthropy
At Societe Generale Private Banking, we aim to promote and develop philanthropy by helping you structure your approach, maximize your societal impact and thus contribute to building the world of tomorrow. Our experts have a mission to inspire and guide you in structuring a solidarity strategy that makes sense for you and your family. In this context, we give the floor to key figures in this ecosystem: a philanthropic researcher, Charles Sellen, shares with us his analysis of the link between philanthropy and happiness.
What is the link between philanthropy and happiness?
These two realities are absolutely inseparable. On the donor’s side, they feed on each other: there is a greater desire to express generosity when you feel happy, and people with higher levels of happiness tend to be more altruistic. So it’s a virtuous circle. On the recipient’s side, these two concepts have more of a causal link: philanthropy must logically aim at enhancing the well-being of the populations receiving assistance (it is difficult to speak of “happiness” when people are suffering). The links between philanthropy and happiness are therefore multiple. But we often think that happiness is not a serious subject, so we tend to put it in the background, without giving it the attention it deserves. In fact, many multidisciplinary scientific works (economics, sociology, psychology, neuroscience, etc.) have now firmly established that the quest for happiness is a legitimate and useful desire to lead a balanced life. Science helps to better understand the mechanisms that promote well-being, with concrete variations for elected officials who reflect on public policies, business leaders who wish to promote quality of life at work, etc. An exciting field of research has opened up in recent years at the intersection of these two concepts.
What are the benefits of altruism?
They are countless for those who practice it. Generosity in all its forms (gifts of time, money, etc.) is positively correlated with better health and longevity, as well as a stronger perception of a real meaning in life. When it comes to volunteering, being involved in such projects provides greater self-esteem. On average, volunteers experience fewer depressions. Volunteering helps reduce the psychological effects of aging; it even creates a sense of abundance of time where we thought we were short. In terms of giving money, making an expenditure for the benefit of others gives greater satisfaction than when you spend the same amount for yourself - and this amazing result is true for any type of amount and in all cultures of the world. And moreover, the simple fact of remembering that we gave generates a positive mood. So, a “recipe for happiness” could be taking a regular dose of “vitamin G”, consisting of being generous frequently, and remembering as often as possible the joy of making ourselves useful to a cause that is dear to us.
You have interviewed many personalities of the philanthropic universe, in France and in the United States. What are the main lessons you draw from it?
I would draw three key lessons from that. First, philanthropy has progressed so rapidly in Europe over the past two decades that we can no longer speak of “delay”. There is now a great maturity in the French and European philanthropic sector, from all points of view. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in comparison to our American counterparts – except on the issue of donation volumes, which remain unmatched. Secondly, the way philanthropists see themselves is rather modest on this side of the Atlantic. In Europe, they perceive their charitable activity as complementary to that of the public authorities. No one seriously thinks of replacing the state, whereas on the American side, it is more common for major donors to see themselves as competitors of state action, often for ideological reasons. Finally, what is striking in France is the cult of secrecy around philanthropic action. This is understandable, given the weight of history (it has not always been wise to display its wealth and generosity) and the discretion that is traditionally seen as a noble virtue in good society. However, everyone realizes today that the preventions that were well-founded yesterday constitute a major obstacle to communication and to dissemination: how can we encourage other philanthropic vocations, how can we emulate them if no one dares to testify publicly about their solidarity commitments? We need figureheads to inspire others, multiply philanthropists and set a model for their action. Fortunately, some dare to take the plunge, especially in professional circles where there is less media exposure and more freedom of speech. For example, “Changer par le don”(1), a French initiative encouraging wealthy people to devote 10% of their annual income or wealth to philanthropy.
To learn more about the theme «philanthropy and well-being», we invite you to listen to the podcast recorded by Charles Sellen by clicking here (French only).
Charles Sellen is a philanthropic researcher affiliated with the Universities of Montreal and Ottawa. A PhD in economics (Sciences Po Paris), he has collaborated with the CerPhi (“centre d'étude et de recherche sur la philanthropie” – philanthropy study and research center) and the French Development Agency. He was director and then president (2011-2018) of La Fabrique Spinoza, the first francophone think tank(2) on happiness and well-being. Winner of the Fulbright “NGO Leaders” program, he was invited as “Inaugural Global Philanthropy Fellow” at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in Indianapolis (2019-2021). He currently mobilizes this international expertise as an advisor to various philanthropic actors.
(1) Meaning “Giving change” - For more information, please visit the “Changer par le don” website: https://changerparledon.com/
(2) Think tank: a private think tank that produces studies on social themes for decision-makers.
To learn more about this topic, see also the interview of Sylvie Chokron, neuro-psychologist and research director at CNRS, in our PB magazine #8.
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