So my recent thoughts about giving have been about how much I give (time, objects, money) out of guilt, and how much good actually comes out of what I give.
Ideally, what I give should be very helpful by some measure, and I should not do have to it out of guilt or responsibility. I got the second one down early, as my giving throughout high school was mostly in organizing educational events or writing open source software. Late in high school, I became familiar with a movement called Effective Altruism which really got me thinking about how relatively useless spending tens of thousands of dollars and more man hours than I can count organizing a three-day programming contest for college kids is.
And so began a guilt trip! All those charity ads about starving African children, abused women, abandoned puppies etc made me feel shitty about myself and the world, not that there's any wrong with that kind of advertising. It did make me want to give, not out of generosity or care but because I felt like I didn't deserve things I had, and that I shouldn't be happy. I hide away from things that make me feel guilt or disgust like that, because those are negative emotions that feel bad. I like feeling happy, but what if I could expand the amount of things that make me feel happy? So I pulled a pretty selfish move and didn't donate until I could be happy and confident doing so.
So here are the things I did / went through to get myself feeling good, and "guilt-free" about donating. This ended with me donating 10,000 to the Future of Humanity Institute, about 20% of my untaxed income over the past two years.
- Ask your friends to convince you. I want to be convinced that giving away some money would be good feel good. I care about my friends' opinions, and so talking to my friends in effective altruism was helpful. At the same time, I'm very against peer pressure so watch out for that!
- Research what it costs to do X for another person. Think about how much you'd spend to get that for yourself, a friend or a stranger on the street.
- Think about what your "worst case" is. This sounds depressing, but was helpful for me since I was taking money away from potential family illness, unemployment or need to pay tuition. These cases are highly unlikely, and more importantly, my worst case situations did not seem significantly more frightening with some missing money.
- De-guilting by thinking about hedonic adaptation. When I hear about people struggling my empathetic brain signals go off and I start feeling very very bad, because if that happened to me tomorrow I think I'd be in incredible pain. It's usually true that things are better than one expects them to be (there are studies on this too) and also that people can reestablish a base line.
- Calibrate against your mind-tricks playing with your emotions. I realized I would instantly pay 5000+ to save a stranger dying right in front of me, but maybe not even want to spend money to save people in the future.
- Think less about saving current lives, and more about saving future lives. This is also in line with being effective, as a general concept is that there are more people in the future than there are in the present. It's much harder to feel guilt-tripped when the message is more "people in the future might be sad!"
- Think about how much money you actually need / use. What amount of coveniences or luxuries compares to the live of another human being? What amount is unused? I personally found that I was being too cautious with saving money.
- Pick an issue that you're passionate about, and feel positively about. I donated to the Future of Humanity Institute to work on human-aiding research and development. One of their focusus in AI Alignment, and as someone who works at an AI company, I care about the issue and can enjoy reading their research. They also study existential risk, biotechnology and fund altruistically motivated researchers -- all of which are pretty great and interesting to me.
- Look into giving tax-efficiently! Canada will let you claim 15-29% in tax credits!
- It's satisfying! Being able to donate and be happy doing so is just so great. It means that you can feel more like you have an abundance of resources, which is a wonderful freeing feeling. You can spend your money to buy yourself happiness, affect your character and be a positive impact for the world. Honestly, I self-hypnotized a bit and repeated these concepts to myself to get here.
But where do I stop? How do I live with myself eating out almost every day in a nice apartment and buying clothes I only wear once or twice? Well haha I'm selfish I suppose. I don't have very clear thoughts about this yet, but I'm happy giving an amount I feel comfortable with you everyone else should too!