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Gallup poll: Degree of one's charity depends on happiness more than wealth

A Gallup poll done for the Charitable Aid Foundation finds more correlation between happiness and giving than between wealth and giving. The survey's ranking of countries puts America as number five. Many poor nations are high in giving of one type or another.

By Clayton Jones / September 10, 2010

Tru Pettigrew, center, helps with local Haitians as volunteers with the North Carolina Baptist Men Disaster Relief build houses in Titanyen, Haiti, last May 3.

Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT/Newscom/File

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So it's true. Money doesn't buy happiness. Giving does.

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That's one big conclusion to draw from an unusual survey by Gallup on how much time and money people donate around the world. Known as the "World Giving Index 2010," the survey was conducted in 153 countries for the Charities Aid Foundation in Britain. It found a better correlation between a country's degree of happiness and giving than between its wealth and giving.

The poll's main purpose was to rank each country by its overall behavior of giving, based on this question:

Which of the following three charitable acts have you undertaken in the past month:

1. Donated money to an organization?

2. Volunteered time to an organization?

3. Helped a stranger, or someone you didn’t know who needed help?

Some countries are very stingy in giving (think former Soviet bloc nations), while some can be very generous in one area while stingy in another. Liberians, for instance, give very little money to charity or religious groups but are the world's most generous people in helping strangers. The most generous countries tend to be Protestant.

The top 10 countries, based on the highest percentages of people who answered yes to all three categories, are these:

Australia 57 percent

New Zealand 57 percent

Ireland 56 percent

Canada 56 percent

Switzerland 55 percent

USA 55 percent

Netherlands 54 percent

United Kingdom 53 percent

Sri Lanka 53 percent

Austria 52 percent

Americans might be disappointed they are not Number One in charity, given their self image and their global reputation as a generous folk. The survey found 60 percent of Americans had donated money to an organization, 39 percent had volunteered their time, and 65 percent had helped a stranger. One reason may be that the survey was conducted only in urban areas, where generosity is less than in rural areas of the US.

The big picture is this: "Overall, 20 percent of the world’s population had volunteered time in the month prior to interview, 30 percent of the world’s population had given money to charity, and 45 percent of the world’s population had helped a stranger."

It will be interesting to track those figure over years and decades to see whether humanity is gaining in its humanity.

Sociologists will have a field day trying to figure out why certain poor countries are so charitable, such as Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guyana, Laos, Turkmenistan, and Sri Lanka. That result suggests that wealth is not the best indicator of a giving nature. Happiness is, and that usually depends on one's spiritual strength.

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