Happiness for Sale

32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” – Acts 20:32-35

Can money make you happy?

Short answer, “Yes…if you give your money away!”

Which is why Grand Rapids is one of the happiest places to live, placing second only to Salt Lake City in the philanthropy league table.

Harvard Professor Michael Norton wrote a book about this called Happy Money, the Science of Smarter Spending. In it he presents data to support his regular challenge to audiences: “If you think money doesn’t buy happiness, try giving some away.”

In the book, Norton and co-author Elizabeth Dunn explain the results of numerous experiments in which Canadian college students, poor Ugandans and Belgian pharmaceutical salesmen were given money to spend on themselves or others.

In every case, the persons who were told to give their money away were happier than the persons who were told to keep the money for themselves.

“Basically, everywhere in the world, giving is associated with being a happier person,” said Norton.

A few of their other findings:

  • The most generous givers tend to be at both ends of the wealth spectrum.
  • Poor people tend to be more generous the middle class.
  • Giving to religious groups, even when compulsory, tends to make people happier,
  • Giving to a person you know makes you more happy than giving anonymously.
  • Money does not make the average U.S. citizen happier after they reach an income of $75,000 a year. From that point on, most persons claim they would need to triple their current income to be completely happy.

And if you want some bonus encouragements:

  • Christians who tithe end up with better finances than those who don’t. Researchers compared tithers to non-tithers using nine financial health indicators, and found that tithers were better off in every category.
  • Spending money on someone else makes you happier: When 46 students were given $20 to spend, the ones who spent the money on others were happier at the end of the day than the ones who spent the money on themselves. (Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage, 55)
  • Spending money on shared experiences produces more happiness than selfish purchases: When researchers interviewed more than 150 people about their recent purchases, they found that money spent on activities—such as concerts and group dinners out—brought far more pleasure than material purchases like shoes, televisions, or expensive watches. (Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage, 55-56)
  • Giving increases health and well being. Altruism produces social integration, an enhanced sense of meaning and purpose, and a more active lifestyle. It distracts from personal problems, reduces self-preoccupation, increases immune function, and decelerates aging. (Jessica Colman, Optimal Functioning: A Positive Psychology Handbook.)

All explanation, illustration, and confirmation of the most neglected beatitude that says:“It is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35).

– David Murray


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