How to create a system and program yourself into being more generous and giving more to charity
Growing up, I was taught that charity is more than just a duty – it should be a way of life.
But as a selfish 7-year-old, I didn’t like that idea at all. It was one thing to convince me that I needed to share my snacks and toys with other kids, but to give them away?? And my duit raya / ang pow too?? (Back then, that was my only source of income, and the only reason to look forward to Hari Raya or Eid, really…)
I’m no longer 7-years old, but I’m still selfish. People who are innately altruistic do-gooders won’t get this, but it is actually really difficult to part with your “hard-earned” money, especially when you no longer qualify for duit raya and have to actually bust your ass at work.
I’ve had to actively work on becoming more generous, as it did not come naturally to me at all. It still doesn’t, to be honest, so over the years, I’ve had to do two things to circumvent my own failings:
correct my mindset with constant reminders to myself, and
create systems to make an automatic habit of giving.
It’s all in the mind: What’s yours is not yours
The difficulty in giving up my money or belongings stem from loving them a little too much, and feeling entitled to them. After all, I earned them, and they’re mine to use however I liked.
In Islam, however, the belief is that you don’t actually own anything. What you have has only been loaned to you by God, and what you do with it reveals the kind of person you are – do you hoard it for yourself, or do you use it to better the lives of others? It’s a test. (Hint: the correct answer is not the first one!)
To help Muslims pass the test, Islam makes it mandatory to annually give away 2.5% of one’s entire wealth in alms (zakat), and on top of that, encourages voluntarily giving (sadaqqa).
I won’t lie, the first time I paid my zakat, I pouted over how I could’ve gone on a full vacation with the money. But of course, I was looking at it wrong – I saw it as a sacrifice, which, upon hindsight, was pure arrogance on my part. See, it’s only a sacrifice if it harms or lessens me in some way, but on the contrary:
“Charity does not in any way diminish wealth” ~ Prophet Muhammad s.a.w, Hadith Sahih Muslim 2588
“Allah said: Spend (on charity), O son of Adam, and I shall spend on you.” ~ Prophet Muhammad s.a.w, Hadith Sahih Bukhari 5037
[One does not need religion to prompt charity, of course. The non-religious equivalent of the above would be: “No one has ever become poor by giving.” ~ Anne Frank and “Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have.” ~ Jim Rohn. Not to mention the multitude of clichés that abound: "the hand that gives is better than the hand that receives", blah, blah, blah]
It may sound like New Age Mambo Jambo, or something from the pages of The Secret, but I have found this to be true: What you give does not take away from you, it adds to you. In fact, the Quran describes charity as a “commerce that will never perish” (35:29) and a source of “spiritual growth” (92:17-21).
This applies even in less prosperous times – even when you don’t have much (in fact, especially when you do not have much), give anyway. To quote Nouman Ali Khan: “You want a promotion? Give charity! You’re not getting enough savings? Give charity! God will open more doors for you, that is His promise.”
[If you’re not religious, substitute God’s promises with ‘good karma’ or ‘what-goes-around-comes-around’.]
So every time my greedy and selfish side rears its head (which it does a lot), I repeat the following to myself:
It’s not even mine to begin with,
It’s intended for others who need it more than I do,
What I give is peanuts compared to what I will receive in return.
Make giving automatic
The pain of giving comes from being worried that you won’t have enough for yourself, and having to use up your limited willpower to do something that a part of you doesn’t really want to do.
To overcome the above, here’s what I do:
System #1: Automatic charity fund
I specify a percentage of my paycheck exclusively for charity, and I have a special account set aside for it.
Every time I get paid, I automatically put X% into the account. (You can even place instructions to your bank to do this for you.)
The X% is always a ridiculously reasonable amount – I started off with 5%, and asked myself: Can I live on just 95% of my paycheck and give away 5%? Duh, yes.
I’ve since increased the percentage as I go along because a couple of things start to happen:
you start to realize that you really don’t need ALL your money to live a good life,
you start to get embarrassed at the low % and think: ‘I can do better’,
you begin to get genuine pleasure from giving, because the clichés were RIGHT all along!
Having a dedicated account makes a lot of difference, at least to me. Because I continuously put money into it like I do my other accounts, I always know that there’s money waiting to be given away, and that it won’t deprive me of anything at all (in fact, quite the opposite).
I don’t worry if I have enough money to spare, or where I’m going to get the money from, or how much I can afford to give – it’s all already there.
System #2: Automatic and consistent giving
Now that I have the account, I have to figure out what to do with it.
First, I decide on issues that I really, truly, disproportionately care about: Environment, animal rights, education, poverty (yes, in that order – don’t judge my priorities and I won’t judge yours).
Then I make a list of organisations or people who are doing good work in addressing those issues.
I look up their website, find the ‘Donate’ button, and I set up recurring transactions.
Charity organisations make it easy nowadays by allowing monthly contributions that are automatically deducted from you bank account. You set it up once, and you are giving month after month without even thinking about it. No willpower required.
But you could pour ice water on yourself too, if you want. Source
Sometimes, though, I don’t want to be mindless about it. There is pleasure in giving, and you don’t want to rob yourself of that by letting machines do it.
Now and then, I either actively seek out opportunities to give, or wait for the opportunities to come to me. When that happens, I dip into the account and watch the money go – not resentfully, but happily, and I-hope-that-helps-ly.
This requires willpower though, and a bit of work (you have to pick a pen and write a cheque, or click colourful buttons to make a bank transfer), so think of it as extra credit on top of your already automated donations. In time, this gets easier and more fun to do, and you’ll even look forward to it!
For the kiddies
If you have children, it’s never too early to start. I definitely wish I had started on this system/ habit as a kid – maybe I’d be a tad more generous than I am now, and wouldn’t have to try so hard to become a better person.
You can set-up the same system above, but with physical piggy banks as opposed to bank accounts. Have a separate piggy bank for charity, and encourage your kids to put a portion of their allowance in there each time they receive one.
Piggy Bank of my dreams. Source
Explain to them why it is something worth doing, but more importantly, when it gets to a considerable amount, give them the pleasure of donating the money with their own hands, be it to someone who needs it, or an organisation they want to support. It will be a start to a lifelong dedication to giving, and that’s what we need more of in this world.
Go forth and multiply (in charity)
All of this has been an elaborate tactic to get you to be more generous and maybe give me duit raya.
In all seriousness though, I know from personal experience that it takes effort to be generous – well, for those of us born without the altruistic gene, that is. Some of us want to give, but are overpowered by more basic instincts of self-interested hoarding that have us clinging desperately to our wealth.
But like any other skill, giving generously can be cultivated and improved upon. It is a skill worth acquiring, and I hope the above helps you, but also me (mostly me) to give more, do more, and be more.
True that. Source
Note: The above narrowly discusses the money-giving form of charity, but it is by no means the only way. You can also give of yourself in a non-financial way: your time, your energy, your expertise…etc. I believe the same principles apply, though automating them may have to be done very differently.