A recent CBS piece shared the story of Dale Schroeder. Described as a humble man from Iowa, Schroeder worked as a carpenter at the same company for 67 years. He never married and had no children.
Since he had no living relatives, he approached his lawyer about a plan for his money after he passed away. When his lawyer asked him how much he was talking about, Schroeder told him, "A little shy of $3 million." The lawyer said he almost fell out of his chair when he heard the amount.
Then Schroeder told him what he wanted to do with the money. Since he never had the opportunity to go to college, he wanted to help kids from Iowa who otherwise would not have the opportunity to receive a college education. Schroeder passed away in 2005, but his legacy lives on.
In all, Schroeder ended up paying college tuition for 33 kids. The group, who call themselves "Dale's Kids," met each other at a gathering to honor him. They are now teachers, therapists and doctors, among other professions, all without any college debt, thanks to Schroeder. While none of them can thank Schroeder personally, they can pass on his generosity to others.
Certainly, giving financially to a worthy cause is one way to be generous, but that's not the only way. You can also be generous with giving your time or lending a listening ear.
For example, a 93-year-old woman recently sent a note to her next-door neighbor saying she was lonely, scared and had no friends. She asked the neighbor if she would consider spending some time with her. Sometimes just your presence is an incredibly generous gift.
In whatever way you choose to be generous, here's the really cool thing: Not only does it benefit the person you are helping, it also benefits you.
"Helping is love made visible in acts of generosity, small and large," says Stephen G. Post, the best-selling author of "Why Good Things Happen to Good People," speaker and Stony Brook professor.
Post says that generosity is good for our self-esteem and well-being. In a study of people over age 65, those who volunteered in the past scored higher in life satisfaction and had fewer symptoms of sickness. Those who did not volunteer proved to be sicker and unable to give to others. Post believes that feeling happy and connected to others are fundamental components to overall health and that being generous with others forms bonds that are meaningful, which then increases our happiness. Being a generous giver actually makes us want to be more giving in the future.
Post also finds that generosity is empowering. It inspires others to be compassionate and pay it forward.
"When the happiness and security of others is as meaningful to you as your own, you are a person of love and you will flourish," Post says.
Being generous is contagious. When someone else is generous to you, it encourages you to be generous to others, too. Giving of your time and resources can really feel good, and it has the potential to create a ripple effect of kindness in your home and community. Giving to others is powerful and makes for happier, healthier people.
As we head into this Thanksgiving week, it's a great opportunity to think for a moment about the many ways we have experienced blessings from others and the chance we have to bless people we know, as well as perfect strangers. The good news is, you don't have to have saved $3 million in order to be generous.
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.