Why is it selfish to donate?



Can we give without the expectation of compensation for this action?   After my very first donation at the nearby charity shop, I caught myself thinking „I have contributed to the community so I am to be praised for covering these opportunity costs”.     Am I a hypocrite fallen angel? After investigating the issue, I am relieved that even philosophers have contemplated about the existance of pure unselfishness.

charity shop

Being socialized in a secular society I looked for factual evidence to justify my shameful narcissism. According to the scientific approach the way our own brain is wired is responsible for our unique personalities and preferences. Our decision-maker centers consist of neurons  incorporating the wisdom of the whole evolutionary process. Individuals willing to come together and meet the needy’s necessity definitely have contributed to the survival of the species. Here roots the reasons charitable giving activates the pleasure center of our brains.

Scientifist have carried out numerous experiments to find out exactly which step of the donation process ignite our neurons. Is it always the act of providing public good? Or are we convinced that the world is just and our good deeds will be rewarded?  As a matter of fact for some people, the improvement of their social status is the key motivating factor. Their self-esteem is boosted by publicly defraying the opportunity costs of charity giving. I am wondering which is the stonger trigger, the altruistic willingness to sacrify or the fact that donation is affordable.

fallen angel

At the end of the day I stopped self-loathing. No matter which pleasure center is activated or why taking pride in charity giving is feasable. The resolution is a win-win situation.

Do you have other convictions about donation? Please leave a comment.

Are you interested in experiments related to charity giving? Please refer to these links:




  1. I give clothes away often without telling anyone. I’m only mentioning it in this comment as a way to explain that I don’t do so with a thought that it will help me gain an advantage in social status. Although I will say that I feel a boost in spirit and you do touch upon self-confidence in your write here. I appreciate that you refer to research to back up your points.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Your title first threw me off but drew me in as well. While reading though, it made sense since I have heard this argument before and it is true. Donating is done to make us feel better about ourselves in a sense and that is selfishness but there is good selfishness and there is bad selfishness. Donating would be the example of good selfishness where people are at least benefiting and being helped versus the opposite where you’re destructive to everyone around you just for thinking about yourself and your own needs.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. For me charity is dependable on the situation. Where I live… charity has become a business. Everywhere I go, people are begging for medical money with fake hurt limbs not truly wanting to work but using charity as a way to earn a living instead. However, even for those who live in poor houses, don’t have legs or ams, I know that we can help them, yet avoid providing them with an upgraded life. Every obstacle needs to be passed before success. If we give people money, they won’t have any reason to work. But if we just educate, motivate and consistently donate (second hand clothes, etc), people may be willing to work hard and we may see a better, educated and clean society. It just depends on what charity we’re doing

    Liked by 2 people

    • I partly agree with you. A certain social net is necessary to subsidize people in unexpected trouble for a shorter a langor period of time. On the other hand it can happen that the industry you used to work becomes obsolete in the economy and it takes time and money to acquire new skills.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. My partner and I are in the process of de-cluttering everything…or trying to. I LOVE the concept of your blog and look forward to following. We are giving away LOTS of excellent stuff…just because we do not need this stuff to function simply. What makes us happy? The thought that we might just be able to retire if: we get the debt GONE; stay in a house that will be paid for; continue to live with simple expectations; try and be at peace (hard many days..)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was reading a few months ago Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind”. He discusses selfishness and group based altruism and thinks our evolution is founded on both. After reading his book I think I would go further and say selfishness is an illusion. There is nothing but altruism since we can’t help being part of various groups. What we see as selfishness is only a different group someone is serving than the ones we think should be served.

    Anyway, I enjoyed thinking about this topic again from your post.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great post to make people start thinking! I’d always think that to be able to give others is a blessing, it means that we have more than we actually need. Charity itself is good, in my opinion. I think what matters is our intention of giving at the first place. Was I giving out of gratitude or out of pride (I’m doing good or I’m rich)?
    In terms of money, can be tricky. Because some people here (in my country) was earning money by disguising themselves as charity organization when they approach us on the street. So, now we normally donate straight to the organization center itself, not through these individuals.
    In terms of stuff, I used to donate my used clothes, and I wasn’t aware that my clothes don’t always benefit others, and ended up in landfills. So, the better solution for me now is…buy lesser but better (quality) clothes!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I have heard that cloths donation containers are often operated by for-profit companies (not the charity itself), and firstly that company sorts out the donated cloths for second-hand sale “products” and the remnants are transported to the charity. I think a part of the cloths is recycled.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Several times a year, in my endless quest to keep my home from becoming too cluttered, I donate clothing, toys, and other household items to the local Goodwill, which is only a mile from home. My motivations are selfish, not altruistic. I could take the items to the dump instead, but that costs me money; giving to Goodwill costs me nothing. The knowledge that someone else may get use out of something I no longer want or need and pay less for it than they would at a retail store is pleasing to me but is not the reason I donate.

    Giving my money or time to other organizations, well, that’s entirely different, and this comment is already overlong.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Somehow people should be motivated to donate. Today I have donated my bookselves to charity shop and they delivered it for free. They make a profit on it, I did evade any costs. I could have sold it on the internet, but I did not want non-professional stangers to disassemble furniture in my flat.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on Dynamic Applications and commented:
    interesting thoughts.

    would anyone be interested in a public list of donators on the website? – with Dynamic Applications, it would have to be fully automated, or it won’t work out in the long run (with 99 ct donations). There’s probably a way to allow everyone donating to enter their Website and Name if they want, but if you do it like that, it’s really more like “selling a back-link for a donation” for interested parties…

    As for myself, i think the key driver for me to publish my work as freeware (also a kind of donation or contribution, isn’t it?) is really the wish to do something reasonable or senseful or even find sense and confidence myself in being a provider or “builder” of something useful. So my lifetime was not all wasted. So, i wish to, do something useful but at the same time stay private, it’s definitely not a rock-star thing. I love the fact to have thousands of downloads from all over the world (virtual fame), but at the same time just walk out of the door here in this small village, and my neighbor or the people next street (from the real world) never visited my website and treat me just as the guy they’ve seen around who’s living somewhere next door. So that everything stays normal, in a way.

    from my perspective, it’s an inventor thing. There’s rockstars and then there’s also inventors, amd i’m not saying rockstars won’t work hard for their success as well. I think there’s a difference in motivation or basic need. Anyone got a clue what i’m talking about? Thx

    Liked by 2 people

  9. My peronal rule is the good Samaritan (And I’m in no way religious).
    We (should) give/donate back what others in the past have given us, parents, older people, strangers met at a crossroad. And when we give, we should expect no thanks, just remind the recipient that s/he should give out something in the future. That’s all. And in this way, people will keep giving/helping others in the future.
    And… Thank you for giving us your reflections.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. While it is not always possible I prefer to give in secret. Our donations are sometimes made through organizations and sometimes made to individuals in need. If someone thanks me or offers to repay me for what I have done or given I instruct them to pay it forward by doing good for someone else when they have the opportunity.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Pure charity works like this. Perhaps some people need motivation to occur the opportunity costs of donation and some gratitude boost their balance of mind. Or they have met so much malice that they would like to joy the seldom moments of gratitude towards them.


  11. I found this article interesting, because I think if we donate things “we own,” it’s because we have decided we have “too much,” not because we suddenly feel we want to be charitable. I think giving charitably is when we actually donate money or buy something specific for a charity, THEN we have made a conscious effort to help another person. At that point, we are not expecting the BIG pat on the back for being good, because we “wanted” to make the donation. On the other hand, sometimes when we donate things that we “own,” we want a pat on the back, because we worked hard to accumulate these things and so we want people to “appreciate” the hard work that went into buying the different items that we are now sharing. YES?

    Liked by 2 people

    • When we donate excess assets we prefer donation to second hand sale. So we run deliberately the opportunity costs, so this transaction should be appreciated as well. However, I thik that we donate far less than we could actually afford. But would it be donating more than affordable just to help others reasonable? In this way we would risk to become helpless and needing the help of others.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s not that we donate more than we can afford. But sometimes we know that the money we might use to go for a coffee or a dinner, could be used to buy a book for a charity that helps children in the hospital. What I mean is that donating for me is not about opportunity costs, it is about “trying” to give to a charity where I feel I am making a difference. I think we ALL go through phases in life… as we get older, we become more charitable, because we are on more of a spiritual quest rather than a material one. Just my thoughts…

        Liked by 2 people

      • I think this depends on if people have children or not. If people have children they have no time to reflect on their “own lives.” If a person is single they have more time to reflect on themselves and the community around them. Life is a journey and I find that we all go through similar thoughts at different times in our lives depending on our life circumstances.

        Liked by 2 people

  12. I am learning how to base my personal philosophy upon pure, simple mathematical/arithmetical connections. In this case: humans are subject to a struggle between 2 attractive extremes that pull us one way or the other. here it is between pure selfishness – only doing something for our own good – or pure altruism, only doing a thing for the good of someone other than ourself. We may find either one gives us pleasure while the opposite might bring us some pain. While there are seemingly only two options there is always a mid point between the two extremes, a balance. The best action would be the one that gives us some personal benefit while at the same time benefitting others (the Win-win situation).

    The question then can be seen in another ‘direction’: do we seek to do only that which benefits others equally to ourself or do we seek to do nothing, recognising that we have imperfect vision and understanding and when we do something, even with good intent, the results can turn out to be the opposite to what we intended when deciding the action we wanted to take? All things being equal, doing nothing neither hurts or benefits anyone equally (fairly) while doing something can work out well – or not so well.

    Personally (based upon past thinking/belief system) i believe Charity, like love, is the act of giving something you have to someone else without the expectation of reward. Charity (love) is its own reward. Giving away opens up room for more (ideally better, not just different) things in life. Recognising that anything we have is but on temporary loan to us (you can’t take it with you when you die) can help ease the sense of loss giving may sometimes instil in us. 🙂


    Liked by 2 people

    • Goverments do not really ensure a guaranteed min wages for citizens because they fear that motivation to work would be eroded. The 1% richest are reluctant to help starving peoples because they are afraid that the globe will not be able to feed so large thriving population.
      Some argue that the evolutionary selection suggests that the weak or the incompetent must disappear.
      There are so many moral questions to answer once you decide to break away from nature. Anyway, even trees are interconnected subsurface to transfer minerals and water among each other. We attribute market economy and charity to humans, which is not the case.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I most definitely agree that every thing is connected to and to some degree relies upon for it’s origin or continued survival/progress to every other thing.

        The atoms currently comprising our human bodies are mostly at least 4 billion years old and have at some time or other been a part of every single thing on our planet. Our interconnections are unimaginably vast. 🙂


        Liked by 1 person

  13. Interesting post, however donating clothes to charity is not such a good action as one expected. Once you really see the big picture is easy to understand that donations like this are not actually helping anyone apart from your ego.
    Here is an very interesting article about where the clothes we donate to charity end up going:


    Liked by 1 person

    • i believe the information in the link you provided to be true in a lot of cases but not all. The local goodwill for example, there are articles of clothing there for sale and a fraction of the cost that i am able to identify as shirts donated from local businesses (private businesses whose only locations are in the same town). Its sad, thought, that we have to worry about where its going at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Everyone’s motives for giving are different. Some do it to truly help others, some do it because it just feels good to help others, others for positive attention.

    I respect the person who gives without any indication they they have done so. To me, the person’s motives are most genuine and pure when they give and move on without calling attention to it.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I always try to recycle wherever possible, clothes however, I tend to wear until they fall apart (I will wear them indoors where no-one else can see the holes in them) although I used to give clothes away I found that I missed them afterwards. I’m not one of those people who will buy a new winter coat every year. I replace when the one I have is no longer keeping out the cold and the lining has so many holes it looks like swiss cheese. I have had second hand furniture before and it makes sense to use things others threw out.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Working in office buildings as a banker, I am forced to observe dress codes. Even if I do not want to waste money on new items, I have to admit that corporate culture urges me to do so. A guy used to wear jeans almost all days, and some colleagues warned him against it by mocking on him. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      • That is just so cruel, some people wear jeans because they don’t have money to buy many clothes therefore they buy clothes that will last, that in most cases means jeans.


  16. I received an inheritance when my mother died and now I tend to donate more often. I have selected a few charities that support causes that are important to me and try to send money to them regularly. However, sometimes because of this I then get flooded with mail and email asking me for more. I also get on a bunch of unsolicited mail lists. This bothers me. There are those organizations also that either send you a “free gift” (note cards and such) in their mailing or offer a selection of gifts if you donate. Does that prompt people to donate? It does me, sometimes, even though I don’t really need what they are offering. But I wouldn’t donate if it weren’t a worthy cause, in my opinion.

    Of course, if I were to donate anonymously I might not have this problem, if one can call it that. It is a bit hard, though, when you are sending money which necessarily means giving your name and address. We have organizations here that send trucks around to pick up donated goods to benefit different charities. In those donations, I can be anonymous, and although they then call me every month, it doesn’t bother me to either say yes or no. I don’t feel pressured.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that avoiding the contact with the direct beneficiary can be useful. Donating, and generally doing a kindness to the needy have to be carried out in a delicate way. Don’t be condescending, patronizing, and giving the right times to the right people need some special skills despite all benevolence.


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