Happiness is something that everyone is looking for, yet not everyone finds. Yes, some are fortunate enough to acquire wealth through hard work, luck or other avenues, but the result of this accumulation of assets doesn’t necessarily mean happiness if it’s not used properly. Here is where Jenny Santi, philanthropy advisor and author of the newly released book, The Giving Way To Happiness: Stories & Science Behind the Life-Changing Power of Giving, comes in.
Not only has she been providing sound guidance to some of the hottest celeb activists and world’s most benevolent leaders, but she has decided to impart her knowledge of the power of giving – be it money, time, love or wisdom – through the pages of her book. In it, she not only provides real life examples of the powerful transformation that occurs through acts of selflessness, but also includes tips on how to achieve this in your own life. We sat down with her to find out what inspired her to share her life’s work and the keys to finding true happiness with the rest of the world!
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YB: What made you decide to put your insights into a book?
Jenny Santi: I’m on a mission right now – and that is to change the way we see giving, from something that we perceive to be drudgery, to something that we want to do because it gives us fulfilment, meaning, and happiness in life. I want us to live in a world where we no longer need to be coerced, pressured, or guilt-tripped into making a difference, but where we intuitively understand that it is good to give. A world not where we give until it hurts, but where we give until it feels great. All my life I’ve been told I write well… so I decided to use that gift to write a book that told the stories that would lead us there.
YB: How have your job experiences (and in turn your experience putting this book together) impacted your views on wealth, or even on life in general?
JS: Wealth in itself is not a bad thing. It can be used to produce good or evil. I am inspired by the people I’ve met who have chosen to use their wealth to produce good.
YB: You’ve interviewed and worked with so many successful, well-known people. Do you have a favorite celebrity experience or one that has taught you the most?
JS: Petra Nemcova, a supermodel who has done Victoria’s Secret and Sports Illustrated campaigns – was one my most memorable interviewees. She was vacationing in Khao Lak, Thailand in December 2004, with her fiancé Simon when the Indian Ocean tsunami hit. Simon was swept away by the current and never seen again; while Petra broke her pelvis and was told she might never walk again. Barely a year after the tsunami, and still recovering from her physical and emotional wounds, guess what she did? She went back to Thailand. She set up the Happy Hearts Fund with the vision of rebuilding schools and the lives of young victims of natural disasters. She transformed her grief into a life raft of inner strength, a new passion for life, and a completely changed outlook. She told me that by giving, “you can heal faster emotionally, but also physically. You can have an impact on many lives and you can bring joy to the lives of others. There’s a selfish element in it, really. When we make someone happy, we become even happier.”
YB: What’s the most simple way for an everyday person to start on a path to giving back?
JS: Begin by asking yourself – what are you passionate about? Our passion should be the foundation for our giving. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving. It’s only natural that we will care about this and not so much about that, and that’s okay. It should not be simply a matter of choosing the right thing, but also a matter of choosing what is right for us.
To identify your passion, ask yourself these questions: What experiences have shaped your life? When you were in school, what did you most enjoy studying? What is your greatest accomplishment, your greatest loss? What keeps you awake at night? What brings you to tears, makes you angry, or moves you?
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YB: How do people avoid burnout when helping others? I feel like this is even present on a very tiny scale in addition to big volunteer movements, such as when a friend comes to you in a moment of crisis and you’re worried that you’re too emotionally taxed to take on their stress.
JS: Nearly everyone who performs emotionally intense charitable work can be susceptible to burnout. But there are things we can do that can help make the strain of doing the work worth it. Take care of yourself first, and practice self-love. Find more hands-on opportunities that allow you to directly experience the positive outcomes of your work. Find strength in a group of like-minded people who also believe in the cause that you care most about. Learn how to say no to the things that don’t matter so that you can say yes to the things that do.
YB: As you demonstrate in the book, this idea that giving leads to joy is more than just an idea — it’s a reality that’s been backed over and over again by scientific research. With that being the case, why do you think the world doesn’t lean into giving more often and instead is more focused on individualism?
JS: Indeed, every day a charity appeal says, “If only we all gave a dollar . . . if only everyone just gave the time they could, it would help millions of people.” But that doesn’t work, because those appeals tell you what giving can do for the world.
We’ve read loads of inspirational quotes, but they are empty because we have not heard enough stories of how happy giving can make us. I have had the privilege of meeting many inspiring people through my work. I’ve heard their stories of how giving their time, resources, and talents to the causes they care about has helped them find purpose, elevated their careers into callings, brought them closer to their loved ones, and helped them recover from life’s most painful moments. It occurred to me that these stories must be told, as they hold the power to inspire others to do the same.
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YB: I was very moved by the discussion in the book of Viktor Frankl and the concept that a sense of meaning is such a strong driving factor in our lives. How do you suggest a person goes about creating meaning if they’re feeling lost or purposeless?
JS: Sometimes finding your purpose happens by conscious intent. Consider what you hope others will say about you when they describe you, or what you would want to be written in your obituary. What legacy do you want to leave? You will be known for something. What do you want it to be? What would you like to do for others? Service for something beyond themselves is always a common thread in those who’ve found their purpose. Once you have an inkling, take a moment to write down your own special purpose. It doesn’t have to be perfect—just write it down. You can hone it as you go. The simple act of writing things down greatly increases the likelihood of your words turning into action.
YB: Is there anything you want to talk about that I didn’t ask?
JS: The way we give should not only be making a positive impact, but are also personally rewarding, fulfilling, life-changing and fun. I don’t believe in giving until it hurts; rather, I believe in giving until it feels great.
Jenny Santi is a philanthropy advisor and author of “The Giving Way to Happiness: Stories & Science Behind the Life-Changing Power of Giving”
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