The Valentine’s Day Gift That Saves Lives

This is mainly of in­ter­est to Effec­tive Altru­ism-al­igned Less Wrongers. Thanks to Agnes Vish­nevkin, Jake Krycia, Will Kiely, Jo Duyvestyn, Alfredo Parra, Jay Quigley, Hunter Glenn, and Rhema Hokama for look­ing at draft ver­sions of this post. At least one as­piring ra­tio­nal­ist who read a draft ver­sion of this post, af­ter talk­ing to his girlfriend, de­cided to adopt this new Valen­tine’s Day tra­di­tion, which is some proof of its im­pact. The more it’s shared, the more this new tra­di­tion might get taken up, and if you want to share it, I sug­gest you share the ver­sion of this post pub­lished on The Life You Can Save blog. It’s also cross-posted on the In­ten­tional In­sights blog and on the EA Fo­rum.

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The Valen­tine’s Day Gift That Saves Lives

Last year, my wife gave me the most ro­man­tic Valen­tine’s Day gift ever.

We had pre­vi­ously been very tra­di­tional with our Valen­tine’s Day gifts, such as fancy candy for her or a bot­tle of nice liquor for me. Yet shortly be­fore Valen­tine’s Day, she ap­proached me about re­think­ing that tra­di­tion.

Did candy or liquor truly ex­press our love for each other? Is it more im­por­tant that a gift helps the other per­son be happy and healthy, or that it fol­lows tra­di­tional pat­terns?

In­stead of candy and liquor, my wife sug­gested giv­ing each other gifts that ac­tu­ally help us im­prove our men­tal and phys­i­cal well-be­ing, and the world as a whole, by donat­ing to char­i­ties in the name of the other per­son.

She de­scribed an ar­ti­cle she read about a study that found that peo­ple who give to char­ity feel hap­pier than those that don’t give. The ex­per­i­menters gave peo­ple money and asked them to spend it ei­ther on them­selves or on oth­ers. Those who spent it on oth­ers ex­pe­rienced greater hap­piness.

Not only that, such giv­ing also made peo­ple healthier. Another study showed that par­ti­ci­pants who gave to oth­ers ex­pe­rienced a sig­nifi­cant de­crease in blood pres­sure, which did not hap­pen to those who spent money on themselves

So my thought­ful wife sug­gested we try an ex­per­i­ment: for Valen­tine’s Day, we’d give to char­ity in the name of the other per­son. This way, we could make each other hap­pier and healthier, while helping save lives at the same time. More­over, we could even im­prove our re­la­tion­ship!

I ac­cepted my wife’s sug­ges­tion gladly. We de­cided to donate $50 per per­son, and keep our gifts se­cret from each other, only pre­sent­ing them at the restau­rant when we went out for Valen­tine’s Day.

While I couldn’t pre­dict my wife’s choice, I had an idea about how she would make it. We’ve re­searched char­i­ties be­fore, and wanted to find ones where our limited dol­lars could go as far as pos­si­ble to­ward sav­ing lives. We found ex­cel­lent char­ity eval­u­a­tors that find the most effec­tive char­i­ties and make our choices easy. Our two fa­vorites are GiveWell, which has ex­ten­sive re­search re­ports on the best char­i­ties, and The Life You Can Save, which pro­vides an Im­pact Calcu­la­tor that shows you the ac­tual im­pact of your dona­tion. Th­ese data-driven eval­u­a­tors are part of the broader effec­tive al­tru­ism move­ment that seeks to make sure our giv­ing does the most good per dol­lar. I was con­fi­dent my wife would se­lect a char­ity recom­mended by a high-qual­ity eval­u­a­tor.

On Valen­tine’s Day, we went to our fa­vorite date night place, a lit­tle Ital­ian restau­rant not far from our house. After a deli­cious cheese­cake dessert, it was time for our gift ex­change. She pre­sented her gift first, a dona­tion to the Against Malaria Foun­da­tion. With her $50 gift in my name, she bought 20 large bed-size nets that would pro­tect fam­i­lies in the de­vel­op­ing world against deadly malaria-car­ry­ing mosquitoes. In turn, I donated $50 to GiveDirectly, in her name. This char­ity trans­fers money di­rectly to re­cip­i­ents in some of the poor­est villages in Africa, who have the dig­nity of us­ing the money as they wish. It is like giv­ing money di­rectly to the home­less, ex­cept dol­lars go a lot fur­ther in East Africa than in the US.

We were so ex­cited by our mu­tual gifts! They were so much bet­ter than any choco­late or liquor could be. We both helped each other save lives, and felt so great about do­ing so in the con­text of a gift for the other per­son. We de­cided to trans­form this ex­per­i­ment into a new tra­di­tion for our fam­ily.

It was the most ro­man­tic Valen­tine’s Day pre­sent I ever got, and made me re­al­ize how much bet­ter Valen­tine’s Day can be for my­self, my wife, and peo­ple all around the world. All it takes is a con­ver­sa­tion about show­ing true love for your part­ner by im­prov­ing her or his health and hap­piness. Is there any rea­son to not have that con­ver­sa­tion?