How to Find the Warm Glow and Give to Make a Difference

by | Dec 15, 2021

It had already been a busy day, but I kept checking the clock on my desk so I wouldn’t be late for one more obligation. Bell Ringing!

I signed up for a Salvation Army bell ringing shift several weeks before. I didn’t think much about it. Pick a time, make sure I get it on my calendar, next task.

Several days before my shift, it occurred to me that I would be ringing alone. Each time the thought quickly came and went or arrived at inconvenient moments to do anything about it. So, when my shift came, I arrived alone.

John and his friend provided a few directions and told me generosity was apparent. Then, off they went. I settled in for the hour. After a few minutes of testing a bell ringing technique, I went with the bell down.

So, there I stood at the main entrance to the mall, wondering just how many folks shopped on Tuesday evenings early in the Christmas season. I was pleasantly surprised. The weather was beautiful, with wispy clouds floating above and cars passing on the street below.

A friend arrived early in my shift while still testing my ringing technique. As she dropped in a donation, I said thank you, and she promptly reminded me I should say Merry Christmas. Then I was alone again with my bell and the red kettle. But as I studied the sky, a warm feeling came over me, and I felt myself smiling at no one in particular.

The Warm Glow is for Everyone

And then I remembered, research in recent years proves the “warm glow effect” exists, actually activating our brain’s reward areas. It even has a subtle impact on other areas of the brain.

So the important message we should not miss is that acts of kindness with no hope of anything in return profoundly impact the giver.

My husband loves kettle season, donating all over town every time he comes across one. He joins many others who fish out change and bills to stuff into the kettle slot. My first giver was a woman who took several minutes to rifle through her purse looking for her wallet and then to find her change, all the while sharing how her day had gone and the personal challenges her family was facing right now. As you can see, she is still on my mind and in my prayers.

Eventually, a mother and two elementary-aged children came along. Mother stopped to find change for each child to place in the kettle. The young boy focused on getting his coins into the slot while his sister smiled at me as her coins dropped.

Then there was the lady who said I’ll be right back with change as she headed in the door and another who didn’t find anything in her wallet and said I’ll catch the next one. And I knew both were good for it.

I spent an hour smiling, saying Merry Christmas, and feeling warm all over.

As I write, I often talk about strategic giving, making smart giving decisions, and having an impact. The truth is that as important as that style of giving is, it seldom produces the “warm glow effect.” That’s from the research, not just me talking.

My hour of bell ringing passed quickly. Many givers joined me in the warm feeling of making a difference in the lives of others. What kind of difference will we make?

Why My Bell Ringing Mattered

Shelter for men, women and families, the Angel Tree at the mall, rent assistance, clothing vouchers, an in-house rehabilitation program, a daily soup kitchen, showers open to the public, and emergency and seasonal needs – and that’s the shortlist.

Besides the opportunity every year to ring the bell, there are many other ways to help, like supporting events and sales organized by the Ladies Auxiliary or serving Christmas Dinner.

Share a Smile and Find Your Warmth

Give your time or other resources to a cause that matters to you. The research says it doesn’t have to be difficult, oh and smile while you’re doing it. That’s the best way to wrap up giving this year.  

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  1. Mary Virden

    What a great blog post! ♥️
    My husband and I were bell ringers that same beautiful Tuesday. We experienced the same warm feeling you’ve written about in observing the generosity of others.
    Merry Christmas ?♥️?♥️?

  2. Elizabeth Ratliff

    Love that you did this Dawn! We support the Salvation Army as one of our charities. I’ve never done Bell Ringing but I may have to consider doing that next year after hearing about your experience.


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