This idea was largely influenced by Michael Norton, whose video I will post below.
We must have heard this phrase time and time again, “Money can’t buy you happiness, you know!” and I can massively agree with this statement, or at least that’s what I thought. As much as we all want to win the lottery, plenty of researchers have discovered that those lucky few who do win on all that cash do not end up any more happier. In fact, many of the winners tend to spend it so unwisely or carelessly that they end up in even more debt. What is also interesting is that research also showed that winner’s social circumstances changed dramatically, if not in the home, certainly with friends. They found many friends, too many ‘friends’ in fact would ask and require of their new wealthy ‘friend’ for money and favours. The results seemed to find that those who did win the lottery ended up with more debt anyway and worse friends than before. Nonetheless, we all might at times fantasize about what we ourselves would do with the jackpot if we were to win it…
What Norton and other folks have discovered is that there is some sort of link between how happy we feel and how we spend our money. It is suggested that when we spend money on buying gifts for other people, spending it on a nice gesture or giving it to charity or a worthy cause – we feel happier than when we just buy things for ourselves.
More research and more results have shown an interesting correlation between how happy people are and how much money they give to charity. This test was worked out all over the world and amazingly, only a very small amount of countries (I’m talking about three or four) were not correlated. Obviously, there could be weaknesses in the test itself, but what a positive thought!
So maybe it is the case, maybe it does not make us happy because we’re spending it on the wrong things. What is significant here is not how much we spend (whether £5, £20 or £100) or what we actually spend it on (a bunch of flowers, a charitable donation or a special present). In actual fact, what seems to be the significant and deciding factor in these results is WHO we spend it on. We seem a society that is so focused on indulging ourselves, consuming all the time and taking much more than we give out. But if we thought about these results, we might change our attitude, we might learn our lesson. Instead of fantasizing about how many yachts and segways we would buy with our millions, we might realise that our happiness and health might better depend on us spending it on other people.
It is important to know that it was not only Western societies that were tested with this correlative idea, it was also in developing countries like Uganda. Interestingly, there were some universal results that suggested we all feel better for giving what we have or are given to other people, rather than on our own needs and wants.
The reality is that I am not trying to say that we can buy happiness at all. In fact part of the debate for this whole post will in fact reside in the meanings of the words ‘happy’ and ‘happiness’; I do think there is a complication with these words and our understanding of how we relate to them. On another note, it is perhaps selfish to note how spending money on others can actually benefit our own feelings and autonomy. Maybe it would be better if we just spent money on others or charitable causes out of no other reason than it is the better thing to do, doubtless of our positively beneficial repercussions.
But there you have it, think about it. Spending money on others, rather than yourself, does actually have a far greater return and advantage for you (as appealing as that new pair of jeans or that holiday getaway might seem on payday). Maybe its true what they say, having that new hair product will not make you happier, nor will that super duper car improve your happy-0-metre and instead we can stop wasting our time with chasing those things and stop buying into changing fashions for ourselves and instead start investing it into longer lasting feelings like charity, good gestures, friendly coffees, special presents and causes that could make a life time of difference to the lives of so many others – and even yourself!