Money Can Buy Happiness

Tina Haapala |

You’ve heard the saying that money can’t buy happiness. That saying is wrong. Money can buy happiness. The problem is that most people are spending the money on the wrong thing. For the most part if someone is trying to lift their spirits, they spend money on fun or things for themselves. What researchers found out last year was while money can buy happiness, the key was to not spend it on yourself, but on someone else.

The study was performed by Professor Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School, along with Professors Elizabeth Dunn and Lara Aknin from the University of British Columbia. It was published last year as the article, “Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness” in the March 21 issue of Science.

The study showed that the more of a person’s income that was spent on others, the greater their reported happiness. Even if they were given the money to spend, those who were directed to spend it on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.

Yet when trying to gain happiness, people resort to spending on themselves. They feel that spending money on fun or possessions will make them happy. Yet the study indicated that spending as little as $5 on someone else was the better choice toward happiness. Our minds reward us for being generous. That $5 spent on others creates more happiness than $20 spent on ourselves.

Look in your closets, drawers, and shelves. How much stuff have you accumulated? How much do you use? How much do you cherish? How much of it brings you comfort, joy, and happiness? We seem to always need more boxes, more closets, more pantries, more sheds…and then we go and rent a storage unit once our home overflows. And how many of our garages are so stuffed that there is no room for the cars?

I’m wondering if instead of buying a new gadget that will probably never get used, I might put a few more dollars on the table for the waitress. Maybe I could go to the grocery store, fill my bags and bypass my house on the way to the Food Bank. What a neat idea if I looked in my catalogue, pulled out my wallet, counted out the money needed for that toy I wanted, and sent it to a friend who is out of work?

The professors say I’ll be happier. Experience has shown me that they are right.

But let’s not stop there. Don’t you want your children to have a happier life than you did? If so, then instead of instilling in them the “ought to” of giving to others, let them experience the happiness that giving can bring. Discuss with them your giving. Consider matching the money they put into gifts to others. And (within reason) let them choose where that money should go.

Enjoy yourself by spending on others. Enrich your family by sharing that joy with them.              

Gary Silverman, CFP® is the owner of Personal Money Planning, a financial planning and investment management firm located in Wichita Falls. You may e-mail him at