‘The Giving Way to Happiness’: how to take the first step toward finding your purpose

Author and philanthropic advisor Jenny Santi explains how finding a cause that’s close to your heart can help you find your true calling in life. Plus: the 12 questions that will help you get started.

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Author and philanthropic advisor Jenny Santi firmly believes that helping others around us is the key to leading a joyful, meaningful life. But she’s not talking about monetary donations. Her idea is that by volunteering your time and God-given talents to just one cause that you’re really passionate about, you’ll not only change the world, but you’ll change yourself, and find your greater purpose, in the process.

Santi explores this theory in the excerpt below, taken from her new paperback, The Giving Way to Happiness. In it, she shares stories and insights from leading philanthropists and successful people from all walks of life, as well as practical tips for how you can find your own path to giving. Here’s how to make giving back to others a part of your everyday life.

The Giving Way to Happiness

Photo courtesy of Random Penguin House

The path to purpose through giving

In giving their time, talents or their entire lives to a cause, people from various ages and walks of life are finding the answer to the ultimate question, “What is my purpose?”

Sometimes it is clear from childhood, and confirmed by life experiences in older age. “It has been clear to me since my earliest childhood memories that my reason for being was to help others,” said the billionaire industrialist Jon Huntsman. The Chronicle of Philanthropy listed the Huntsman family as donating $1.2 billion to past charitable causes or foundations. His later experiences confirmed his childhood inklings. He said, “As my sweet mother took her last breath in my arms and succumbed to the cancer she could no longer fight, I realized that our humanitarian focus must center on cancer. I saw with clarity the vision that the Huntsman fortune is a means to cure cancer and that my purpose on earth is to facilitate the research which will illuminate its mysteries.”

I believe that everything happens for a reason. Although we may not always know the reason at the time, there is a higher purpose. “

Sometimes it’s triggered by unanticipated, random events—such as receiving a cabbage. This is what Katie Stagliano of Summerville, South Carolina discovered. Katie is the founder of Katie’s Krops, a not-for-profit organization with the mission to start and maintain vegetable gardens of all sizes and donate the harvest to help feed people in need, as well as to assist and inspire others to do the same.

“I believe that my purpose in life is to work towards ending hunger and inspire others to follow their heart, regardless of their age. … I believe that everything happens for a reason. Although we may not always know the reason at the time, there is a higher purpose. When I received my cabbage I had no idea the true reason. The true reason I was given my cabbage seedling so I could learn how I, at only 9 years old, could help end hunger one vegetable garden at a time.”

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Sometimes it happens by conscious intent. “Seek, and you shall find,” as the proverb goes. Consider what you would hope others would 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 towards 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.

Discovering your passion for giving

It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” Mother Teresa

I strongly believe that your passion should be the foundation for your giving. More commonly, though, we become part of something because someone asked us to do it, regardless of how interested we are in the cause. Or we give year after year as though we are paying taxes, never paying much attention to whether we are giving to something that deeply matters to us.

Harvard Business School’s Michael Norton, who has been working with businesses to maximize their staff’s volunteer experiences, says “We often see companies send their employees out to help with nonprofits. For example, an accounting firm will send their accountants to help build houses. It turns out that accountants, first of all, don’t know anything about building houses. Neither do they like building houses, and so it’s not necessarily even the most rewarding opportunity for them to volunteer. Yet there are so many poor people who actually need help with their taxes—and that’s something that accountants can help with and actually enjoy helping with, because it’s in their area of expertise.”

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” Edward Everett Hale

Giving should be personal. You 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 you. If your heart isn’t fully into it, you’re very likely to get bored, distracted, and apathetic. You’re also very likely to give up when the going gets tough—and things will get tough. If you don’t feel like going totally bald to support a cancer charity, you shouldn’t feel bad about it. Perhaps you can offer your marketing skills for the same charity, or a different charity altogether.

We need to reflect back on our personal experiences in order to decide what issues we want to focus on, whom we want to help, and where we want to act. The process is very personal, often evoking difficult memories or experiences. For many people, it is an intensely emotional act. But one well worth pursuing.

To identify your passion, ask yourself these 12 questions:

1. What experiences have shaped your life?

2. When you were in school, what studies did you most enjoy?

3. What is your greatest accomplishment or triumph? What is your greatest loss?

4. If you could change one thing about your past, what would it be?

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned in life?

6. Who has been a role model for you?

7. What do you cherish most in life?

8. How would you describe your values and morals?

9. What keeps you awake at night?

10. What makes you angry?

11. When did you last choke up at the movies?

12. What moves you?


Excerpted from The Giving Way to Happiness: Stories and Science Behind the Transformative Power of Giving by Jenny Santi. © 2015 by Jennifer Rose W. Santi. Tarcher Books, Penguin Group USA, Penguin Random House. You can pre-order The Giving Way to Happiness on Amazon.

Jenny Santi
Jenny Santi

Jenny Santi is an author, and philanthropy advisor to some of the world’s most generous philanthropists and celebrity activists. She holds an MBA from INSEAD and is a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy. An animal lover and accomplished artist, Jenny lives in New York. She is the author of the acclaimed book “The Giving Way to Happiness: Stories & Science Behind the Life-Changing Power of Giving.”

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