A meaningful life – doing the most good

TL;DR version:

If you want a meaningful life, give your money to a cost-effective charity

Long version:

One thing that makes life meaningful is our relationships with others, especially so when we feel our position within the social fabric is appreciated by others.

Perhaps the easiest way to feel valuable within this wondrous universe is to help others, and the demand for help is so high we can be busy for the rest of our lives. There are few issues you can look at without seeing room for improvement.


Humanists, non-religious, and atheists are no strangers to charity: it’s obvious we are very generous and eager to help others. distributes micro-loans to people in developing nations and the self-identifying group of people who have contributed by far the most are the non-religious.

I don’t mean to argue about which group gives more to charity – I simply mean that anyone who thinks those without religion are not ready to help a fellow human are mistaken.

I encourage you to get involved in helping people, but I urge you to do it methodically. For me, helping others isn’t about how good I will look in public, or how good it will make me feel once I am done (though I assure you it’s the most rewarding experience); for me, helping others means helping as many people as I can with the limited resources I have available.

For example, before you choose to volunteer at a local soup kitchen for an hour, consider working an extra hour and giving the money to charity. Calculate how well off you are compared to the rest of the world. Many people living in the developing world live in mind-boggling poverty: their life is equivalent to or worse than trying to survive on $1/day in the US.

This means even small donations to charities working in the developing world can have a profound positive impact on an individual’s life!

Because you want to help as many people as possible with your donation, it’s imperative you research which charity makes the biggest positive difference in people’s lives.

Thankfully there is GiveWell, an organization that spent over 5 years trying to find charities that do just that. GiveWell has looked into hundreds of promising organizations (thousands of others didn’t make it past the first cut) and recommends only less than 1% of them as cost-effective!

You may be shocked to find out that the best organizations can be 10,000 times as cost-effective as others. This means giving $10,000 to an average organization might be no better than giving $1 to a cost-effective one! At this point I hope you’re excited about the difference you can make for others during your life.

If you choose to give more, and more-effectively, you can prevent thousands of cases of malaria ($5/net distributed), or treat thousands of people of parasitic worms ($0.50/person cured)!

And you will not be alone, Giving What We Can is an international society of people who have pledged to give at least 10% of their income to the most cost-effective charities they can find. And for Rutgers Students, make sure to check out the GWWC Rutgers Chapter for events.

You might not be able to start giving 10% of your income, or even give $10 to charity today, but once you are in a position to help – make sure you do as much good with it as you can – people’s lives depend on it.