Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Nurture Yourself: Money CAN Buy Happiness

Image via meandmybentley

I've been in my car more than usual lately and had a chance to catch up on some new TED talks over the weekend (if you aren't familiar with TED, check out my previous post here). One in particular really moved me and I wanted to share it with you. It's title: "How To Buy Happiness." Now, I'll come clean and say up front that the following crosses my mind at least a couple times a week: "If only I had the money, I would _______(fill in the blank). That blank covers a wide spectrum - from a new pair of Louboutin heels to a Kenyan safari; an elite preschool for my daughter to a large arrangement of orchids or beachfront property. Whether its travel to fantastic and far-off places or the newest offerings from the Parisian couturiers, I've looked at them longingly at one point or another and consciously or unconsciously thought they would bring me some degree of happiness. Has this every happened to you? 

Enter Michael Norton's simple premise: Money can in fact buy happiness, BUT only if you are spending it the right way - on others and not on yourself. Through several different social experiments around the world (they collected data from places as diverse as Canada and Uganda), he and his colleagues discovered that people were in fact happier if they spent money on other people. This could mean buying a stranger a cup of coffee or giving a colleague flowers.  They also discovered that people who gave money to charity were happier than those who didn't. I was raised by two parents who donated to just about every charity that happened to get our home number and because of that I try to give to a few charities each year that are close to my heart.  However, Norton's talk was a great reminder for me to think less about ways to spend money on myself, and more about how to spend money to help someone else.

Thankfully through this talk, I also discovered, a non-profit designed to let you choose from thousands of low-income schools all over the country who have specific education needs.  With everything from a microscope to a butterfly nursery, it gives donors the opportunity to connect with a class and donate whatever they can ($5 would be great!). The teacher sends you a thank you, the students send you a thank you and you may even receive photos of the students using whatever supplies you helped fund! With a quick search, I found my elementary school on the site as well as 100's of schools in the L.A. area near our home. Donating to several classrooms did in fact make me feel great and brought me the type of joy that can't be found in a store. Happy hump day everyone! 


Erin said...

To play Devil's advocate here, is it possible people felt better in a different way when they spent their money on others? Like, a self-congratulatory way rather than a genuinely happy way? I donate to a few charities (a pet rescue, a program that works with handicapped adults and gives them vocational skills) and always feel good about myself afterwards. I'd say it's more that I'm proud of myself rather than happy these charities can continue to function. That sounds awful and shallow, but I think that's true of most people. Otherwise, multi-million dollar donors wouldn't request their names be put on buildings when they give endowments to causes, you know?
Don't get me wrong, I definitely want to help save the animals, but we've been told that donating to charity is such an altruistic thing to do that I think people feel good about giving money in a less genuine way. I don't know, just throwing that out there as a talking point!

All I know is, there isn't a day that goes by where I don't think, "If I had _____ amount of money, I'd buy a flat in Paris with a view of the Eiffel tower." Multiple times a day, actually. That would make me happier more consistently and in a greater way than if I bought a stranger a cup of coffee. But maybe that's because I'm a selfish jerk, haha. xo

Anonymous said...

That donors choose site is such a great idea! I'm going to check it out because it's so nice to know where your donation goes. I love the idea of it. Thanks, Teri

California Chic said...

@Erin- I think you may have missed your calling in the field of psychology my dear! I totally agree with you that often its the ability to pat yourself on the back and say "I did something nice for someone today" feeling that may come from giving to others instead of relishing in the idea that they have been made a little happier that motivates us to give. I guess the question then becomes is that a problem? If they are happier because you helped them and you are happier because you can congratulate yourself on a job well done, it seems like a win win. Does there have to be a genuineness about your internal dialogue? Do we all have to give anonymously to make it a true gift? Not sure about that. And I would agree that a Left Bank flat would add more happiness to my life than paying for a stranger's Starbucks order - you aren't a selfish jerk my dear - you are just like everyone one of us who dreams and wishes for things outside of our economic reality! So maybe we should compare coffee for a stranger to a new pack of really chewy Red Vines - there at least its a closer call for me :) xxo

@Teri - That is what I really loved about it too - being able to see what your money is actually going to is so much better than making a blind donation that just goes into a big pool. That is why I always prefer buying things off wish lists, etc. and then delivering them..its the tangible connection that makes me happy.

tina said...

Jennifer, a great post.

I haven't heard the TED talk but will do so.

I must admit that for the past 10-15 years I've changed in all of this. Partially because I realised money can't buy you happiness and partly because my whole value system changed. I am not a great fan of blindly donating to charity. About 15 years ago I decided to offer my time to charity and I've not looked back since. Personally, I would make it compulsory for people to do charity work as we would have less naval-gazing human beings. There is something really special to 'give' to another (stranger) and it doesn't have to be 'grand'.

I urge all of you to try and give your time to a charitable cause (if you haven't done so) and see how it makes you feel.

One of my favourites is to volunteer for 'Crisis', a charity for the homeless over Xmas.

I like your and I donate to

Oh, btw Erin, I had a boyfriend who owned a flat overlooking the Eiffel Tower. He had a roof terrace with a jacuzzi on it and we used to gaze out.... totally overrated, trust me:)

Theresa / InspirationCOOP said...

This conversation happening here is so interesting! We do a little of both - give of our time and money. Every thanksgiving we feed the homeless and needy in a park. It is a different experience when you are up close and personal with those you are helping. We have also donated money to the Red Cross and Susan G. Komen foundation.
I do like the premise of and will give it a look. At the end of the day, giving is giving...It's all good. (Though, I do like how Erin flipped the script. Clever. ;)

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