The Giving Habit: every month I’ll donate $X to support my favorite projects and causes

I’m studying and adding religious practices into my daily life. Technically I’m a religious none, but there is wisdom in all the world’s religions. I simply believe there must be something greater than us in the universe. Call it God, Yahweh, Rama, the Force, dark matter, whatever :)

What are the patterns and practices shared by the “great religions”: Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism?

Most of these wisdom traditions value kindness, patience, brotherly love. And most of them suggest their followers do things like: Dress simply. Pray and meditate. Fast. And give back.

Which gets to the point of today’s post: Tithing. One of the most universal and central recommendations of the great religions is to help those in need. Some religions even prescribe exactly how much to donate, and when.

Sure, it’s in a religion’s self-interest to encourage this act. But at least the intent (if not always the outcome) is to serve the poor, the weak, the needy.

In Islam, charity is one of the five pillars (zakat). A common practice is to donate 2.5% of your accumulated wealth. Mormons are asked to tithe 10% of their income. You see similar admonitions to give in Sikhism (dasvandh), Judaism (tzedakah), Buddhism & Christianity (alms), and more.

I think it’s wonderful. And it’s an action that everyone can perform, whether devout or atheist or still shopping around.

So, starting this month, I’m going to donate $100 every month. I put “$X” in the title because I don’t want the focus to be on the dollar amount. $100 is a couple nice dinners or a pair of sneakers. This is the start of a practice that I hope will grow with time. As Voltaire says, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.

I call it “The Giving Habit”. My goal is to turn giving into a regular and reliable habit, like my daily habits of exercising and reading.

I already donate money, but in a sporadic and reactive way. $20 here, $50 there, mostly to friends who ask, when they raise funds for a personal cause or a political campaign.

I believe good habits are the foundation of a productive and fulfilled life. If a behavior is important to you, you should try and make it a habit. If you can’t do something regularly, then it doesn’t matter enough to you. Repetition is how you improve and learn. The behavior could be as small as giving flowers to a loved one every month. But ideally the habit is daily. The most important things we do everyday: sleep, eat, rest, work, and hopefully exercise and read and love and meditate / pray.

For accountability, I track my daily habits and publish a scorecard.

Credit and thanks goes to Tim Ferriss and his podcast guest Will Macaskill. I admire the work Will is doing with Effective Altruism. In particular, he has convinced me that cash transfers are an effective means of charitable giving.

Thanks for reading! I’ll share my progress here periodically. And I look forward to hearing from you.

XKCD, on point as always:



Beyond money, I should donate my time and skills too. There’s no excuse for not doing so. I’m starting with money because its easier, and I hope to find a way to start volunteering regularly. I don’t buy the clever but morally hollow argument that if you’re successful at what you do, spending two hours feeding the hungry or reading to kids is a bad use of your time, and that instead, you should earn more money and then donate a portion of it. That’s just an excuse for not trying or – worse – for not caring.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.