Can money buy happiness? According to the age-old adage, the answer is no. However, I am about to explain exactly how purchasing happiness is not only possible, but very attainable — and affordable!
In 2006, a team of biologists at the National Institute of Health performed a study that showed when money was spent on this particular thing, it activated parts of the brain associated with happiness, social connection, and created a “warm glow” effect. It actually released endorphins as well which resulted in an improved mood and state of mind.
So what did these participants spend money on which caused this positive change for them? What is the secret to happiness? The answer, is giving.
Recently, my wife and I moved into a new home. Our tradition whenever we move into a new place is to make cookies for the neighbors and go introduce ourselves. It is amazing how, within a week of dropping off cookies on the doorsteps of our neighbors, we noticed every single neighbor returned the favor by bringing us a desert or meal. This not only started these relationships off on a positive note, it also built trust right from the start, which is exactly what you want moving into a brand new neighborhood.
Studies show a strong social connection is the foundation to strong mental and physical health. When we give to others, this generosity is viewed positively and often reciprocated. This builds trust and a strong bond between people leading to positive mental and physical growth.
That said, giving doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes it can make us feel taken advantage of. Sometimes it can make us feel tired or drained. Sometimes it makes us feel like our resources have been depleted.
Giving is tricky because we should never give for the purpose of what we’ll receive in return. This sets ourselves up for disappointment if we don’t receive what we were expecting. But then again, that’s sort of the premise for this article: giving so we RECEIVE happiness, so here are 3 instructions on how to give in order to get the most out of it.
1) Make giving an intentional priority, aside from what you are asked for
Set aside the instances when you are asked to give. This is a separate kind of giving. The Go Fund Me pages, the fundraisers, the neighbor kid selling coupons or sub sandwiches so they can go to band camp. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with giving to these and I would never discourage you from participating. However, giving feels best when we are not pressured or guilted into it, when we can freely choose who, when, and how much to give.
I’d recommend placing giving into your budget and splitting it into two categories, one for the reactive type of giving, and one for something you are passionate about which you can be committed to long term. This could be a church, organization, family in need, child sponsorship, etc.
2) Give to something with tangible results
If you give to something with results, you’ll be rewarded by seeing how your hard earned money was used to make an impact. This will bring joy, pride and happiness. An example is when you sponsor a child. An organization near and dear to us is Compassion International. Being headquartered in the same city as Compassion (Colorado Springs) means we have several connections with this great organization. It is a great example of giving in a way where you can see tangible results. Your giving helps a child access clean water, food, education. You build a relationship with the child and regularly communicate. You can see firsthand how your dollars can impact a family across the world!
3) Remember, 'giving' doesn't have to be money!
Giving isn’t just about the money. You can volunteer; donate your time. You can donate items, clothing, bedding or food items to a homeless shelter. Your time and non-financial resources can be just as valuable to organizations as your financial resources.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, perhaps start by thinking about what really motivates you to take action when you hear about it. Is there a particular injustice in the world that concerns you? Humanitarian, environmental, perhaps it is animal abuse. Whatever it is, once you identify this area of concern, do some research into what organizations are making an impact in this space. Reach out to them and find out where you can help.
There’s a saying, we can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone. Remember as you give, it isn’t about what you’ll receive in return. Keep the focus on helping those in need and you may find that you just figured out the secret to buying happiness.