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It’s a Wonderful Life: It feels good to give back to your community

“All you can take with you is that which you have given away.” This quote from the iconic Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” sums up the film’s lessons learned about recognizing blessings and community contribution. The film’s message that the spirit of giving is the heartbeat of every thriving community, helps illustrate that simple as well as grand acts of generosity serve as gentle reminders of the boundless potential of human kindness. 

Giving is a fundamental part of our human experience, bringing about a sense of fulfillment and joy in many of us. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that giving, whether in the form of finances, time or talent, has a profound impact on an individual’s well-being and happiness. The studies include those of Psychologist Allan Luks, who coined a term called the “Helpers High,” in the 1980s to describe the euphoric feeling that individuals experience when they engage in acts of kindness and altruism. This emotional boost results from the release of endorphins, natural mood enhancers. Luks also discussed how helping others not only makes you feel good, it also benefits your physical health. Backing up Luks are more recent studies, including one reported by the Cleveland Clinic, which states that people who help others in their community had lower stress levels, less depression and increased self-esteem and one by Carnegie Mellon that reported older people who volunteer for at least 200 hours during the year decrease hypertension and high blood pressure risk by 40%.  

However, feeling good isn’t the only motivator of people who give. Many donors are driven by deeply held personal values and beliefs. They see their giving as a way to align their actions with their principles and make an impact on the causes they care about most. Many also want to see tangible positive changes in their communities (or world) so the opportunity to make a difference and effect positive change can also be a powerful motivator. Others are inspired by the desire to leave a lasting legacy, both for themselves and their families, and to receive recognition for their contributions. Still others are motivated by empathy and compassion—witnessing the challenges of others often drives them to take action. 

Another study by Social Physiologist Dr. Elizabeth Dunn and her colleagues at the University of British Columbia, not only discovered that people who give to charity tend to be happier on average than people who don’t, but also revealed something else of interest. People who give in a way that makes them feel connected, have choices of where they can give or donate and see the impact they made, have increased feelings of happiness. 

In essence, feeling connected to and seeing the impact in our community is why many people give to or through the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County (CFAAC). When donors and organizations partner with CFAAC, they not only receive insight and connection to the needs in our community, they also have a choice as to where their funding goes and can directly see the effect of their philanthropy. 

CFAAC fundholders Larry Burrows and Dawne Widener Burrows echo the sentiment of what it means to give back through CFAAC to our community nonprofits: “When we now contribute [to our fund at CFAAC], the organizations become more than a thank you piece of paper filed in a tax contribution file. The organizations come ‘alive,’ allowing us to see how our funds help advance their exceptional work—and make a positive impact in our community. For us, that’s enriching and gratifying.”

People like the Burrows, who give of their time, talent and treasure in our county all have one thing in common—the spirit to do good, foster compassion and transform lives in their community. 

So, this year, when you think about giving back, consider your motivators, and think about how you can support your community. Reach out to CFAAC for help in finding ways to give that are meaningful to you. CFAAC can share current data on where the needs are in Anne Arundel County and what nonprofits are helping to meet those needs, making it easy for those who want to give back and help to create a wonderful life for all. For more information, visit

The Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County (CFAAC) is celebrating 25 years as a tax-exempt, 501(c)(3), publicly supported philanthropic organization with the long-term goal of building permanent funds that provide support to local nonprofit organizations through grants and special projects. Our mission is to inspire and promote giving in Anne Arundel County by connecting people who care with causes that matter. Established in 1998, CFAAC is one of the largest funders of nonprofit organizations in Anne Arundel County. CFAAC distributes $4 to $6 million annually.

This story was originally printed in the December 17, 2023 edition of the CAPITAL GAZETTE.




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