It seems like almost everyone is out to make a little more money, buy a new this or that, and save a few bucks where we can. With all the attention we put on it, money must have SOMETHING to do with happiness, right?
Right! Having not enough money can prevent happiness. But having enough money (or even having lots of it) doesn’t guarantee you get the happiness you’re seeking. It turns out, if happiness is the goal, there are right and wrong ways to spend your money!
For instance - do you get more happiness by spending money on yourself or spending it on other people?
The answer is surprising!
I recently came across a TED Talk called “How to Buy Happiness” where speaker Michael Norton did an experiment of anti-social vs. pro-social spending (spending money on yourself vs spending it on others). He gave Canadian university students varying amounts of cash and told them which way to spend it, measuring their happiness levels afterward. He did a mirror experiment in Uganda and despite some cultural differences in its application, the results were universal: Spending on other people does indeed make you happier!
Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to donate millions to charity to feel good. They found the effect didn’t change much with the amount you spent, so little amounts have great happiness effects too!
For example, spending $5.00 on a coffee for a friend (or even a stranger) actually makes you happier than saving every penny for yourself. My wife says that one of her favourite gifts was a Starbucks card I gave her because every time she goes she feels like I'm buying her the coffee. I feel great because with no effort at all I have given her something she enjoys! Add that to the coffee’s effect on her happiness, and it’s a great start to the day!
And it’s not that people are unhappy buying a coffee for themselves, but they are less happy than when they are thinking of doing something nice for someone else.
Norton’s experiment was also applied to sports teams where he found that pro-social teams were also happier. Sweetly, some decided to pool their money together and buy something fun for the whole team, rather than spend their money on an individual teammate as instructed. I think their experience emphasized the core of what a team really is - working together, looking out for your comrades, defending one another, and putting your ego aside to do what’s best for the group. Moreover, their happiness level was positively correlated to their on-field performance too! Think about what affect this could have on your own teams - your family, coworkers, and friends. How much better could work be when everyone is in good spirits because of a small gesture with a few dollars?
And what if “money” is just a symbol for “love” or “attention” or “energy”? Consider days when you’re feeling blue and want to treat yourself. Try this next time: Treat a friend! Use the excuse to reach out to someone in your inner circle! You’ll get a bigger happiness boost, and probably enjoy the social time too!
So that’s the research - spending money on others feels good. But I’m curious on your thoughts! Feel free to comment on the purchases that have made you feel the best!