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Letter: 'Tis the season to give back to community

Published 4:07 pm, Thursday, December 5, 2013
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The quest for happiness these days -- feeling good about ourselves, adding meaning to life -- is everywhere. People are constantly looking for the holy grail to happiness in magazine articles, therapists' chairs, buying themselves that special something or taking that special trip.

Yet time and again, studies show the straightest, most reliable path to happiness is this: doing something good for others. Because charitable acts aren't just good for our family and community, they are also good for the soul.

During this holiday season, when we give to those we love, it is equally important to remember those we don't even know -- our neighbors in need in Darien, Stamford and Norwalk.

There are other pretty compelling reasons to give. Social scientists have identified humans as social beings -- we are actually hard-wired for altruism. Helping others is good for you. It is good for your health: By decreasing depression, it reduces effects of chronic disease. It promotes social connectedness by fostering a sense of cooperation in our community. And it is good for education because students who perform community service do better academically. Another interesting discovery about altruism is that it is contagious. Altruism begets more altruism: When you give, it creates a ripple effect of generosity in your community.

One of the most compelling reasons to embrace altruism is that it makes you a happier person. Studies in neuroscience have shown that when people behave altruistically, the regions in the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust are activated. It may even trigger an endorphin rush in the brain, giving the philanthropist a kind of "high" as a result of her or his actions. Scientists have found one predictor of happiness to be "prosocial spending." This is a fancy term for individuals who give away their money for the benefit of others. The research to bear this out crosses global boundaries. In a Gallup World Poll between 2006 and 2008, in 120 countries, people who donated to charity within the past month reported a greater satisfaction in their lives.

This is all good news for our community. It is also good for The Community Fund of Darien. We take your charitable gifts and invest them in nonprofits in Stamford, Norwalk and Darien serving a critical need. When you give to The Community Fund, you invest in our community, but you also invest in your family and your own happiness.

Here in Darien, we value our families and friends, our beautiful and open natural spaces, the security of a safe town and the quality of our children's education. In our community, we are linked by these common values. During this holiday season, when you take stock of your blessings, we hope you will remember those of us who are not as fortunate, and reach a little deeper to help your neighbors. After all, it will make you happier.

If you are interested in learning more about opportunities to give, to volunteer and to support The Community Fund of Darien, please contact us at 203-655-8775 or www.communityfunddarien.org.

Carrie Bernier

Executive Director

The Community Fund of Darien