Be grateful for what you have and give to the less fortunate. We need a firm reminder of that from time to time — particularly after a busy holiday season. Four books published this year explore both the peace that gratitude affords and the happiness that comes from giving.
Fausto Brizzi’s novel “100 Days of Happiness” (translated by Antony Shugaar) does that job admirably. And it’s a real tear-jerker.
Lucio is a lower-middle-class family man in Italy. He loves water polo, his best friends, his wife and two children. We meet him on a bad week: His wife discovers his infidelity, and he’s diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and has about 100 days to live.
He tries to create a to-do list, but his main goal is to win his wife’s forgiveness. For Lucio, the end of his life quickly becomes about others, not himself.
He thinks, “One of my fondest wishes is to see my friends settle down. No, settle down is an old-fashioned, inaccurate term. The words I want are at peace.”
He really wants them to just be happy in their own lives. Of course, his good works and the attention he gives his friends and family pave the way for him to leave the world at peace himself.
Jennifer Iacovelli, author of “Simple Giving: Easy Ways to Give Every Day,” would call Lucio’s acts philanthropic. In writing her book, she wanted to distinguish between charity and philanthropy and concluded that philanthropy is about “the act of supporting or bettering mankind.” Charity, on the other hand, has to do with forms of giving, usually monetary.
Iacovelli runs a “Philanthropy Friday” series on her blog anotherjennifer.com. Of the series she writes, “The idea was to share the stories of people and businesses that incorporated philanthropy into their everyday routines. Honestly, I was looking for ideas for my own personal life and business.”
Why incorporate giving into everyday life? Because it generates happiness.
Jenny Santi digs into the science behind the rush of joy giving produces in “The Giving Way to Happiness.” Good deeds release feel-good chemicals in our bodies that might actually lead to longer lives, Santi writes.
Santi, a philanthropic adviser to the ultra-wealthy, said her clients’ transformative tales of giving go unheard and that a lot of people still resist the notion that by giving, we receive.
She writes, “It seems we have convinced ourselves that giving should be a sacrifice, an act of moral responsibility that renders itself null when we derive any joy from it.”
Author and neuroscientist Oliver Sacks’ “Gratitude” is a slim collection of essays written at the end of his terminal illness at the age of 81.
“And now, weak, short of breath, my once firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the super-natural or spiritual but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself,” Sacks writes.
Forty years earlier, he thought he faced impending death. He turned to what was worthwhile and he found gratitude — “gratitude for what I had been given by others, gratitude too that I had been able to give something back.”
All four books agree that in order to reap the benefits of giving, the act must come from the giver’s heart.
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“100 Days of Happiness” by Fausto Brizzi (384 pages; Pamela Dorman Books; $27.95)
“The Giving Way to Happiness” by Jenny Santi (352 pages; Tarcher; $25.95)
“Gratitude” by Oliver Sacks (64 pages; Knopf; $17)
“Simple Giving: Easy Ways to Give Every Day” by Jennifer Iacovelli (224 pages; Penguin Group; $14.95)