Flash: Money buys happiness!

Peter Jones Human Values

Who says? According to a Harvard/UBC study published in Science, so that’s about as authoritative as possible. How so? The title Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness, tells you something about it.

In an HBS interview, co-author Michael Norton explains:

“Intentional activities—practices in which people actively and effortfully choose to engage—may represent a promising route to lasting happiness. Supporting this premise, our work demonstrates that how people choose to spend their money is at least as important as how much money they make.”

The crisp abstract does not read like a new-age nostrum

Although much research has examined the effect of income on happiness, we suggest that how people spend their money may be at least as important as how much money they earn. Specifically, we hypothesized that spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself. Providing converging evidence for this hypothesis, we found that spending more of one’s income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). Finally, participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.

While they did not generalize beyond the economic proposition of personal income > spending on others, the theory certainly extends to giving one’s time and personal commitment to others.  It is so obvious we overlook it on an everyday basis, unless the giving has become part of our lives and being.By then we don’t think of it’s tie to happiness, as it should be. Would this not fall apart out of sheer irony if we did for others to selfishly satisfy a desire for personal happiness? Happiness is an outcome of good works and a life lived in full. As Marcus Aurelius said:

“The happiness and unhappiness of the rational, social animal depends not on what he feels but on what he does; just as his virtue and vice consist not in feeling but in doing.”

It was/is so with my parents, who (literally) tithed to the Episcopal church all their adult lives, and they volunteered full-time in retirement and gave most of the rest of what little they had to their community, to community theater, the United Way. The Christian outlook and central spiritual act involves loving your neighbor, reinforced by just about all the parables. (It turns out they were actually right about most things!)