Feeling good about doing good

"How did that make you feel?" We ask our kids that question a lot, usually after something happens that is not so good. A sibling swipes a favorite toy. A friend at school sits at another table at lunch. Missing a few too many on a spelling test or getting in trouble for playing rough at the swimming pool.

We have the best intentions, of course. We want our kids to acknowledge that things like this don't feel so good, so that they are less likely to copy the behavior.

Positive reinforcement works, too. That's critically important, according to child psychologists. Encouraging a child to acknowledge the good feelings that come from getting an A on a spelling test, showing kindness to others, and sharing  with brothers and sisters are powerful tools to motivate repeated good behavior.

So how does all of this work when charitable giving and doing good are involved? It turns out, according to studies conducted at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley, that the feelings associated with giving money to a favorite charity, volunteering, recycling, donating, sharing, caring and all of the other ways to do good are also powerful tools for building self esteem and confidence.

This research is aligned with the most basic notion of "philanthropy," which, according to the classic dictionary definition, means "love of humanity" in the sense of caring, nourishing, developing and enhancing "what it is to be human" on the part of both the giver and the receiver.

So how does the research play out with real kids? We decided to find out in our own summer experiment. We gave 10 little girls a certificate for $10, so that each one could make a donation to a charity of her choice. We asked each girl to give us one word to describe how giving the donation to charity made her feel. What we heard made us smile: "proud," "good," "special," "happy," "glad," "grateful" and "inspired."

Feeling good about giving? Absolutely.