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I’ve been thinking about how to live a more generous life lately.

Maybe it’s because I feel like I have so much to be grateful for in my own life, it’s time to give back.  Or maybe it’s because now that I’ve got my personal life largely in order, I have the time and energy to think about someone other than myself.

Or maybe it’s like Winston Churchill said

We make a living by what we get. But we make a life by what we give.

What I didn’t anticipate is how hard it would be.

So in this post I’ll explore how we can get the most out of Mr. Churchill’s advice, and how you can participate in a very special giveaway.

On Becoming a Philanthropist

When we talk about living a “balanced life,” I think this is one part of the conversation that doesn’t get its due. Giving is one of the biggest and most under-appreciated sources of happiness.

Scientific studies back this up.  In the prestigious journal Science, researchers looked at the happiness levels of employees receiving an end-of-the-year bonus.  Those whose spent it on themselves saw no change in their mood, while those who spent the money on gifts or charitable donations has a significant uptick in well-being.

Thanks to the internet, there are a dizzying number of ways ordinary people of nearly any means can make real impacts in the lives of others.

You can equip high poverty kids with technology, you can sponsor an online art show, or help children who’ve been rescued from trafficking find their way home again. These examples are, of course, just to name a few.

Now, there are a multitude of ways to “give” to others without spending any money.  I not only acknowledge that, but applaud it.  In fact, I highly encourage people to design an element of “giving” to causes they believe in as part of their career.  Nothing will make your work more meaningful.

But if you want to add a financial component to your giving, as I do, there are two big questions you have to answer:

  1. What cause(s) do you want to focus on?
  2. How can you maximize your impact without losing the personalization that directly connects your actions to the end result?

Supporting great writing … and you

I’ll never forget my high school graduation, where I was supposed to give a speech as valedictorian. I worked on what I would say for weeks, then went to bed the night before with butterflies in my stomach.

That night, my Dad decided to “help me” by editing my speech.

Not just a word here or there.  He changed the order.  He inserted jokes.

I probably don’t need to tell you how upsetting that was. Ever since, I’ve been passionate about protecting and preserving the places where people can speak their minds freely.  It’s one of the things I love about having my own blog.

But in these days of self-publishing, we often forget the role that traditional publishers play in magnifying that voice and bearing witness to the joys and troubles of our time.

In my opinion, no magazine does that better than The Sun Magazine.  Here is how they describe themselves

The Sun is an independent, ad-free monthly magazine that for more than thirty years has used words and photographs to invoke the splendor and heartache of being human. The Sun celebrates life, but not in a way that ignores its complexity. The personal essays, short stories, interviews, poetry, and photographs that appear in its pages explore the challenges we face and the moments when we rise to meet those challenges.

I could donate a sum of money to The Sun and I would feel great about it.  This is a magazine that has touched my heart and expanded my thinking immeasurably.  I get a surge of pleasurable anticipation every time I see it in the mail.

But I want to do something more than that.  I want to share it with you.

And isn’t that fitting?  Sharing The Sun with readers of Everyday Bright?  Yes, I think so.

So here’s what I’ve dreamed up as the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for you, my darling readers: a dozen long-stemmed subscriptions.

How to win and give

In order to enter the giveaway, I suppose I could ask you to tweet this post or tell me you like me on Facebook or any such common technique.

Instead, I’d like to turn this into a kindness boomerang (to steal a phrase and sentiment from Life Vest).

To enter to win one of a dozen subscriptions to The Sun Magazine and help support one of the best places for artists and writers on the planet, leave a comment below this post with one act of generosity you’d perform if you won.

Your act of generosity doesn’t have to be financially based.  You could offer to help out at the local cat shelter or babysit the children of a single parent who lives near you.  I leave the creative act of giving up to you.

I’ll choose the 12 acts of generosity I most want to help bring into the world and announce the winners in next week’s post on Feb 19.  Winners will also be contacted by email for the mailing address you’d like to receive the subscription to.

All comments must be entered by Feb 15 at 8 PM GMT for eligibility for one of the 12 prizes.

Readers from any part of the globe are eligible, as long as you can get mail–I’ll even include the extra for international shipping.  My dear readers in Botswana, I’m thinking of you!

Of course, I hope you come up with an act of generosity you believe in so strongly, you want to follow through regardless of whether or not you win subscription.  It’s half the fun.

But I know one thing, not a single person will be disappointed with The Sun.

Here’s to making the world bright, one act of generosity at a time.

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32 Responses to Valentine’s Day is for Givers

  1. What a wonderful idea, Jen. I’ve been saying to myself that I should do more to help the homeless in our area. We have a local charity that targets that need. My job with its highly unpredictable schedule has hindered me in committing–but a subscription to The Sun Magazine will push me over the edge. I will contact the men’s unit (which is near my home) and volunteer for the kitchen staff. I will do this as much as my schedule permits for the next year, and longer if I can keep it up. Many thanks for spurring us on.

    • On
    • February 11, 2013 at 10:33 am
    • Jennifer Owen
    • Said...

    Hi Jennifer. Something you said just smacked me right in the face – “maybe it’s because now that I’ve got my personal life largely in order, I have the time and energy to think about someone other than myself.” I have some things that I definitely need to get squared away. I recognize that this wasn’t the point of the article but it reminded me how personal issues can get in the way of the journey. Thank you. I needed that. Big hugs. Jennifer

  2. Hello; Another excellent post. At this time of year we are so worried about giving gifts to our girlfriends, mothers, and wives; so its good you remind us about giving to others unselfishly. I am blind, so the subscription wouldn’t benefit me personally. This is a great idea though. It got me to thinking about something I’ve tried to do a couple of times now. I don’t have a lot of money, but my website gets a fair amount of traffic. I have offered to promote a charity on my site by adding a donate button, but so far no one has been interested. I would have loved to help the foundation fighting blindness, but they looked at the content of my site and declined. I help people sell amusement equipment. I guess they were worried about the potential negative reaction from being connected to me. I don’t know. but do you have any suggestions on how I might find a group to help with the site. Thanks and take care, Max

    • Max,
      I think it’s great you’re trying to capitalize on your high traffic to help support a cause you believe in. I’d say you don’t need their official endorsement. You can raise money on your own and then donate the money yourself. You might just want to run that by the organization (or a lawyer) to make sure there aren’t any rules you definitely don’t want to run afoul of. But I love the idea of connecting the thrill of roller coasters with the thrill of life one can enjoy, with or without vision.

    • On
    • February 11, 2013 at 8:55 am
    • Thomas Trimingham
    • Said...

    I will illustrate and donate two t-shirt designs that promote giving for my daughters school. It is my hope that they can also be used as a fundraiser to help the teachers and students. In this way the effort my be magnified by all who wear the shirts and see them.

    • Hire Katie Goodman, Improvisation for the Spirit http://www.katiegoodman.com to come to our local seniors residence in Seeleys Bay Ontario, to hold an improv class so they can have some fun!

  3. This is a really touching idea, Jen, and I’d be thrilled to win a free subscription. In fact, I may subscribe even if I don’t win – you’ve made The Sun sound very appealing.

    I already have a mission that I haven’t discussed publicly before, which is to support two young people who have lost one parent (my childhood friend) at the hands of the other. This year I aim to help their grandparents afford to take them on a vacation. One of them is a keen writer and poet, so I could pass The Sun on to her as well!

    • Hi Jen; thanks for the advice. I love the way you phrased it. need to try again and expand to some other advocacy groups if they still say no. thanks for all the great posts, max

    • On
    • February 11, 2013 at 3:34 pm
    • C.R.
    • Said...

    I’d love to do more good stuff and I’d love to do it in grander scale. Right now my resources are limited, so I do something little every now and then. That’s nice too. I have mostly helped friends and relatives, but it would be a dream come true, if some day, I could support art and humanities.

    Btw, first I was in light disbelief when I thought influence in your life might have been this Sun:


    So, what could I give? Ok, I could give advice.

    If someone would like to get advice, and is reading this, I am available. Deadline this month.

    Fellow earthling, you are welcomed!

  4. Hi Jen,

    What a lovely idea. I need to read this mag – I’ve never heard of it.

    I agree it’s so good to give and I’ve been focusing on it this year as I let my volunteering slide due to busyness last year. Not good.

    So this year I’ve been helping out at school with spelling tests. Hopefully we’ll move onto reading later in the year.

    I also give a percentage of my book sales to Kiva and always support single mums in Kenya because I have a personal connection there and I know they are working hard to support their children and help them get an education.

    I’m also an ambassador for World Vision which is very cool but I prefer volunteering which gets me off the computer.

    So for you if I win I will go and help a local group of crafty women with their websites – they want me to come talk to them but I’m not keen as they meet in the morning which is my peak writing time and can’t change it until later as they have young kids who nap around lunchtime.

    I’m lucky I get to pursue my own creative outlets and I’d like to help them make their profitable but I need a push on this one. It will be a win win for everyone though so I shouldn’t be so resistant!

    • On
    • February 12, 2013 at 12:36 am
    • Hood
    • Said...

    Thank you for reminding us to to always think beyond ourselves and the needs of our loved ones . I will make it my goal to so random acts of kindness towards strangers wherever I go. Sometimes loved ones expect us to be generous and kind and loving and giving but I love to surprise people whose paths I cross with something unexpected like a smile , a chat , praise or by giving them something to brighten their day. I will remember you during these special moments :)

  5. Fantastic post, Jen! Interesting factoid, too about the happiness of employees who spend their bonuses on others…”We make a living by what we get. But we make a life by what we give.” (Thank you for Churchill’s friendly reminder.)

    Okay, so there are many causes I support but I’ll narrow it down. With the win of the Sun subscription, I’ll commit to $25 for Dogs for Veterans and $25 for Japan’s Great Earthquake Relief Fund (via the Red Cross.)

    • On
    • February 13, 2013 at 11:11 am
    • Holly
    • Said...

    What a wonderful idea. I will list an act of generosity I am already doing.

    Here in the US, I volunteer to fill out people’s tax returns through a program run by the IRS called VITA. They pay for the hours of training, administer tests to certify the volunteers, then local charities coordinate bringing low income clients and volunteer tax preparers together. This is the second year I’m doing it and it is a wonderful way to give using a real skill and aptitude I have.

    • On
    • February 14, 2013 at 12:35 pm
    • Jason Lai
    • Said...

    Kudos for your insightful thoughts and positive outlook Jen.

    Never heard of the Sun magazine, but will share my modest initiative here. I organize a recreational mens’ hockey group and plan to continue our good deeds on an annual basis. We direct cash proceeds to a single parent family in need, in the form of grocery gift certificates, cash or wish-list items for their children (usually in time for holidays). In the summer months, we gather food donations from the group to go to our local food bank. Both initiatives have been a worthwhile cause for me to keep it going.

    • On
    • February 14, 2013 at 1:25 pm
    • Camille
    • Said...

    Thank you for this post and for your idea.

    I always try to do my best to help others when I can. Last week, a friend of mine received a message from her friend and was really distressed: her friend just had his house burnt and he lost everything….
    I immediatly offered to give him some piece of furniture I was supposed to sell.
    She was really greatful because I actually don’t know her friend.

    I think we all should have this way of thinking.

    Thanks again

  6. Hi Jen, Love the idea and the Sun Magazine – which I’d never heard of. After scrolling through some of what is posted at the Sun’s website, I have the following.
    My birthday is in three weeks. I am getting together with a bunch of friends for dinner, in lieu of gifts, I’ve asked my friends to donate whatever they can to the local Animal Humane. I donate both time and money to that worthy organization and I also volunteer at a home for orphaned children. Doing these things make me realize that while I am in a financial tight spot (too much month for the money), life can be so much worse.
    “It is not the years in your life, but the life in your years.” – Unknown

    • On
    • February 14, 2013 at 5:22 pm
    • Shaleen
    • Said...

    Hi Jen.. As always, you continue to impress with your unique angle on things! Needless to say, I think this is a brilliantly conceived plan which is undoubtedly already achieving your vision of getting us all fired up to ACT on our charitable intentions:-)
    My immediate thought was how fortunate I was to now have learnt about this magazine which heretofore I had no idea about. Then I wondered if the free subscription offer would apply to us Aussies all the way over here ‘Downunder’. And finally, a very personal thought came up. I have a friend whose 20 year old son attempted suicide twice last year. I had no idea before this how much trauma something like this can inflict on a family. As a result however I have since learnt that suicide, particularly amongst young adult men aged between 18 and 25 is the highest cause of death in Australia! Shocking… but true.

    From your description, The Sun sounds as though it could be a source of sorely needed inspiration and encouragement for these young men and their families. One way I could possibly make this happen is through an organisation called Step Up which gathers inspirational entrepeneurs together with disadvantaged and troubled youngsters and over the course of a weekend, shares directly with these kids, a vision of a better life. I have volunteered with them before and found it extremely uplifting to see the impact that just one weekend can make on a group of troubled kids. I did feel however that I would love to find a way to be able to provide ongoing support for them. You have inspired me today to get more involved in helping with the Step Up program on a regular basis and I’m also going to go down to the local Schools and Council libraries and see if I can influence them to subscribe to The Sun for the benefit of these young people and the community! Awesome job as always Jen! Hugs and thanks:-)

    • Just a quick note: YES, anyone is eligible for the subscriptions. The Sun will mail anywhere in the world and I’m offering to pick up the international shipping if you win.

      Second, I didn’t know that suicide was such a problem for young men in Australia. I wonder if it is the same in the States? I agree, I think The Sun would make a huge difference in that population. I know it’s big in the U.S. prison system, which I find incredibly heartening.

      This is a great idea that I might look into myself. Wonderful to connect with you as always!!

        • On
        • February 14, 2013 at 5:56 pm
        • Sharon C
        • Said...

        Suicide is the third most frequent cause of death for 15-24 year-olds in the US. My church has been very involved with prevention programs that are trying to reach this age group ever since a terrible year when our community lost several young people this way.

    • On
    • February 14, 2013 at 5:44 pm
    • Sharon C
    • Said...

    I have been committed for several years to the Heifer Project. We buy llamas, sheep, chickens, rabbits, and of course, heifers, for families in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia.

    What makes this program so special is “Passing On the Gift” which requires the recipients to give the third or fourth generation of their livestock to their neighbors in their community. It is so powerful to transform a family from the being recipients of aid to becoming givers of assistance. They also pass along the training for sustainable farming and ways to add value like making cheese from milk or yarn from wool for even greater returns. I love this program and its philosophy.

    Things have been a little tight for me; I made a smaller contribution to Heifer last year. If I win this contest, I will recommit to my support of Heifer and purchase two rabbits for a family in Latin America this Spring. Thanks, Jen, for a wonderful contest idea!

    • On
    • February 14, 2013 at 6:19 pm
    • Judy
    • Said...

    My daughter is a senior and both she and I have felt the tug of searching, writing and applying for scholarships to no avail. My other children will graduate in four years and indicate they don’t want to be in their sister’s situation. I will volunteer to lead a financial planning for teenagers session at our church with the assistance of my two boys. In this way we all learn together and should find ourselves in a different place four years from now.

    • On
    • February 14, 2013 at 7:45 pm
    • Jennifer Iley
    • Said...

    I would sign up to be an adult literacy tutor through my local library.

    • On
    • February 14, 2013 at 10:08 pm
    • Sharon Bove
    • Said...

    Even though fibromyalgia has “clipped my wings” a bit and I can’t do as much physically as I used to, I think I have found a way to help others. I listen. Really listen. I try to give every soul I meet my full attention. From the four-year-old shopping with her mom to the eighty-year-old woman in the doctor’s waiting room, they all have stories to tell and you can see the delight on their faces when they feel they’ve been truly heard. The Sun magazine? More interesting ideas to share!

  7. I am already handling the email newsletter for the local Unity church in our area which believes that there are many paths to the same spiritual goal and supports all paths. We are getting ready to create a marketing campaign/program to include a new web site, using FB, EventBrite, MeetUp, and any other marketing avenues to grow the local community. I will likely be helping with all of this in some combination of pay or volunteer but I will definitely choose to continue to support via writing at least one of their social media marketing methods at no charge. I believe in supporting an organization that does not force it’s beliefs on anyone but that respects all belief systems and supports folks as a spiritual community. Thank you for your support!

    • On
    • February 14, 2013 at 10:55 pm
    • Brian Jewell
    • Said...

    Hi, Jen! You’re just like I remember from years ago, always inspiring people to do just a little bit more. I heard about that research about giving making people more happy than receiving or keeping for themselves. Intriguing stuff.

    Anyway, not really throwing my hat in the ring here, but I thought I’d just put this out there. Something, recently, made me want to do something for other people. Ok, I actually know what it is, but that doesn’t really matter right now, so…

    I decided a little while back that I would go to Japan to help out with restoration efforts that are still going on in the disaster affected regions near Sendai and Fukushima. Ok, not really *that* close to Fukushima. Still not entirely safe there yet, but you get the idea. So I’m taking two weeks off from work (which is a little silly considering I’m a contractor, and won’t get paid for that time off. But I digress…) and travelling out of pocket (again, silly. I know.) with a local church I came upon here in Portland to do whatever it is that I can. I think this will be their third or fourth trip to that region. Sometimes they help build structures for families, or dig ditches for runoff water that threatens to flood into houses that were just repaired days before. Other times, they’d put stickers on books for the local cities for their libraries or stores, I think. But, like I said, whatever I can do.

    It struck me as so important that I spent a few weeks fundraising at the church; baking cream puffs, castella (Google is your friend), cookies, and other things (all from scratch! None of that store-bought stuff.) to help offset the travel expenses for other people wanting to but struggling to find the money to go. I specifically instructed the pastor to give the money raised to whomever… whoever… bah, the person that needed it the most.

    Anyway, we’re going on the 1st of March and will be there for the second anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami. I can only hope that I can do something nice for someone there even if it’s not life-altering. Just making someone there smile a little brighter will make it worth the trip, I think. Most of these people will probably live out the rest of their lives in temporary shelters. For all of the trips I’ve taken to Japan and having grown up a little ways south of that region, it’s the least I can do to say thanks.

    We’ll see how it goes.

    • On
    • February 14, 2013 at 11:14 pm
    • Allen Lucas
    • Said...

    Hi Jen,
    What a fun post this is. Thank you for the recommendation, The Sun would be a great tool for inspiration!
    My daughter’s 4th grade teacher just broke a vertebrae in his back while sledding, and the kids love him. I would donate a back massage a week until he is healed up.(I’ve been doing sports massage for over 20 years.)
    I found out he is a cyclist, as well. So, I may just have a new cycling buddy when he is able to ride again!

    Thank you!

    • On
    • February 15, 2013 at 12:03 am
    • Odette
    • Said...

    I would volunteer with a local organization which uses horses to help physically and socially challenged children and adults improve their lives.

    • On
    • February 15, 2013 at 1:14 am
    • Jeffrey K
    • Said...

    Very nice idea.

    I’ll contribute to some open source software for non-profits.

  8. Hey Jen,

    What an awesome idea! I am a sexual assault survivor. For a long time I considered myself a victim and at fault, and I was ashamed. But I recently started sharing my story and realizing not only how healing it is for me but how empowering it is to be able to support other women who have gone through a similar experience. I am getting married next week to a very loving and generous guy and I *FINALLY* feel healed enough to enjoy sexual intimacy with him, something I was afraid i would never enjoy again. If I win (and to be honest, even if I don’t), I will volunteer at my local rape counseling center, and act as both a resource and a testimonial to other women that yes, they will eventually be ok.

    Wow! I’ve been thinking about doing this for a long time but was afraid that it might trigger something. This post has really been the kick in the pants that I needed to find my courage. Thanks!

    • On
    • February 15, 2013 at 7:40 am
    • Meg Scofield
    • Said...

    Your blog posts resonate with me, especially your insights into the perfectionist personality. I work for the Federal govt and admire that you have been successful at leaving and trying something new. My husband is facing a tough medical diagnosis, and I’ve learned to appreciate the small acts of generosity some nurses and doctors do for patients – a smile, some small talk, asking if anything is needed. I would like to try to do the same outside the hospital – to replicate that humanity because you never know who needs a kind word.

    • On
    • February 15, 2013 at 8:22 am
    • vanessa
    • Said...

    I love this and the Sun sounds amazing. I trust your recommendations.

    The theme that inspired the work that I do was to create a life that I was so excited about that I can’t help but break out in a jig. :) Dancing is an expression of my happiness and connection to my true self.

    This past year has been a tremendous breakthrough year for me as I’ve made some very courageous changes so that I could create what I wanted. Working less, and more connected to my children.

    Since then, I have launched a new coaching, speaking and training business and am in the process of completing my first book.

    I have been so moved by the non-profit organization “Life Change Ballroom” and their work in at-risk schools and taking young school age children and teaching them ballroom dancing. These kids learn to be such ladies and gentlemen and self respect and honor. I have been moved to tears to see the confidence these kids have as they perform and compete. I want to contribute to this non=profit organization.

    Thank you. This little push got me thinking that today is the day that I’m contacting them and committing our first donation in advance of our first launch. I am paying it forward and “seeding” into their organization as an act of faith.

    Thank you.

    Now I’m on to helping as many other people as I can create a life they are so excited they can’t help but breakout in a jig. :)

  9. Just a quick note that ENTRIES ARE NOW CLOSED.

    Thanks to everyone for the heart-warming, tear inducing entries in this contest. It’s going to be a very hard choice to narrow it down to 12 winners. I feel fortunate to have such generous and thoughtful people in my ilfe.

    I’ll announce the winners in next week’s blog post (and will also contact the winners via email), so stay tuned!