The Charities Aid Foundation annually ranks nations on a “world giving index.” The United States has long been at the top of the list, so it’s not surprising that the U.S. is tied for first again. But guess which nation shares first place—Myanmar, otherwise known as Burma. Both received a World Giving Index score of 64. While Myanmar receives only a 49 for “helping a stranger” and 51 for “volunteering time,” it receives a 91 for “donating money.” Why?
The country is home to 500,000 Theravada Buddhist monks, who are supported financially by the larger population. Charitable giving, known as dana, is one of the key paths for Buddhists in earning good merit. In another surprise, Malaysia moved from 71st place to seventh this year. The reason? Humanitarian aid to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan and to China and Japan after natural disasters there.
This is Thanksgiving week in America. Our tradition goes back to a 1621 feast and thanksgiving service at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. The event became an annual observance in the 1660s; the first nation-wide thanksgiving celebration in America was proclaimed by President George Washington for November 26, 1789.
But Americans are by no means the only people to celebrate thanksgiving. Canadians do so on the second Monday in October. Grenada’s Thanksgiving Day is October 25 (marking the anniversary of the 1983 U.S.-led invasion that deposed their dictator). In Liberia, Thanksgiving is held on the first Thursday in November; similar celebrations are held in Germany and Japan.
Why is thanksgiving a universal impulse? Learning from America, Malaysia and Myanmar, let’s consider three facts.
One: there is something in our nature that wants to express gratitude for blessings received. Good friends recently allowed my wife and me to use their condo for a writing week—we texted and emailed our gratitude nearly every day. When someone gives you something, what is your first impulse?
Two: we instinctively want to help those in need. Volunteers who rush to rescue people from a burning house or car later say they weren’t thinking—they just reacted. On a far more mundane level, I was jogging recently when someone asked me for directions. What would you have done?
Three: we know somehow that acts of kindness outlive us. Scripture teaches that there are heavenly rewards for earthly good (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). What you do today echoes in eternity.
This week we’ll continue thinking about Thanksgiving. For today, let’s remember that we cannot spell “thanksgiving” without “giving.” To whom will you give today?