This is part 5 in our series on the recently published book, Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, by behavioral scientists Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton. Their tagline is:
“If you think money can’t buy happiness, you’re not spending it right.”
According to their research, there are five basic ways in which money can be spent that increase happiness for the average person.
And we’re hitting these main points one-by-one. Feel free to start at the beginning (links above) or hop right into this week’s.
Part 5 – Invest In Others
This is Norton and Dunn’s “feel good” stance that they’ve been publicizing widely to sell the book. Hell, Michael Norton did a whole TEDx talk on it that describes most of the gains that we get from spending on others. The talk is only about 10 minutes long, but well worth watching if you’ve got the time.
But the main takeaway that I took from this chapter seems to be missing from Norton’s talk are the three criteria that make an investment in “others” truly worthwhile.
Make It A Choice
Coercion does not for happy donors make, no matter how good the cause. Mandatory donations don’t make people feel nearly as good as those that are made as active choices. (I wish the authors would have addressed mandatory tithing guidelines that many religions adhere to and how giving in that regard would have impacted happiness.)
Make A Connection
Two groups of students were randomly assigned to either give someone else a $10 Starbucks gift card or take someone out for a treat to spend that same $10 gift card with them. At the end of the day, the happier group – hands down – was the group that had spent time (as well as a $10 gift card) with someone else. The simple act of making a connection has a significant impact on how satisfied we are with our giving, which is why people report satisfaction with programs like “Adopt-A-Child” and DonorsChoose.org that enable givers to form more of a connection with the recipients of their generosity.
Make An Impact
We want to know that our donations aren’t disappearing into some void – a generic general revenue fund. And that’s why charities like Spread the Net specify in their materials that each $10 donation allows them to send one malaria net to Africa. “1 Net. 10 Bucks. Saves Lives.” The impact of that Hamilton in your hand is pretty clear.
Final Result – Combining All 5 Ways For Maximal Happiness?
Buy an experience that’s an unusual treat, that’s able to eliminate an unpleasant time from your life. Pay for it now, but don’t use it until later. Oh yeah, and go ahead and buy two so you can share it with someone else.
Sounds like something you can easily accomplish every day, right?
I like this one, and it explains some of the rituals I see at work. In sales, we love to socialize, and there are complex webs of relationships all over the office. One of the great pleasures that the more senior members have is taking a new sales rep under their wing, spending time with them, splitting a few deals when they are starting out, taking them to lunch and generally investing in them.
If you were ever in a position of weakness, and somebody gave you time or a free lunch, it feels even better to pass the favor on to someobdy after you have “made” it in your current role, and I find myself doing this more and more as the time passes. Investing in others is something you can enjoy even more if somebody invested in you!
I think the most interesting part of these findings is that the amount of money given isn’t what matters in terms of the statistical correlation to happiness. It’s more the act of spending money on others and “making a connection”. This actually seems to coincide with how we view charitable giving currently.
Most of our giving is in small amounts, usually directly to someone or some group with whom we have an immediate connection and can see an impact. There’s something incredibly thrilling to helping a young child learn how to sell something – a skill I really believe will help them later on in life. Or slipping an extra $20 in the donation bin at a nature preserve. Instances like these are small items on our income statement, and they don’t even show up as charity. But they connect us to our community and are part of how we invest in others and invest in our relationships.
As a side note, I think it’s very interesting that N&D’s research seems to imply that tithing a larger amount of our income wouldn’t necessarily lead to greater happiness, especially not if that giving did not feel as though it were a choice, as with mandatory tithing requirements.
How are you investing in others? Do you think it has made you happier?