How to Buy Happiness!

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 7.33.19 AMBy Leigh Morrow

Can MONEY buy you HAPPINESS? It appears so, as long as you are spending that money on others and not yourself.

A study has found that people feel happier when they give a little of their earnings to others. Michael Norton, a professor at Harvard, and Lara Atkin and Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia in Canada, did a number of different studies to determine how happiness happens, and if spending money on others increases that happiness.

They started their research with students at the University of British Columbia and did a survey on their general well-being and happiness. Then they gave them an envelope with $5 or $20 in it. Some were instructed to spend it on themselves by the end of the day, others to spend it on someone else. They called the students later that night and asked how they had spent their money. Those who spent it on themselves, bought makeup, earrings and coffee. Then they asked the students to describe their happiness quotient. They reported no change in their happiness. However, the researchers found the ones who had bought their friends a gift, gave their envelope of cash to the homeless or bought Starbucks for a stranger, were happier, and as little as $5 dollars was sufficient to produce happiness gains.

They kept that data and then replicated the study in Africa and Belgium with both field studies and national surveys. They used different age groups and financial demographics. They also encouraged participants to spend their money in different ways, in an effort to uncover if they way in which money is spent, may lead to varying degrees of happiness. The results were pretty much universal. Almost everywhere around the world, giving and happiness were correlated. People who gave to charities, or gave money away to others, were universally happier individuals. It didn’t matter if you bought your aunt a scarf, or gave a friend money for a medical procedure, the feeling of happiness was the same.

Norton and his colleagues also discovered that those who spent their money on their co-workers on a sales team ended up selling more product, and teammates on a sports team who bought things for their fellow teammates actually moved up in their rankings and dominated their sports field. Their happiness, the researchers conclude, helped them perform better.

They also studied whether people could “get happy” by calculated giving. In other words, did people still derive happiness when they gave money away just to feel that emotion? Consistent with their earlier findings, the researchers found people who spent more on others than they did on themselves were happier, even though they knew the end game.

The study also found evidence that donors felt happiest if they gave to a charity and made a social connection, versus just a blanket donation. Some charities send donors a picture of the new microscope they helped buy for a school and the kids using it in the classroom. The social connection increased the happiness feeling.

“Stop thinking about what product or service you think you will buy to be happy, and start thinking about what you can buy for someone else”, Norton simply states.

If you wish happiness this holiday, do what your first grade teacher told you. Share. Share your income, share your time, and in turn, find happiness. May your happiness shine all through this holiday!

Leigh Morrow is a Vancouver writer who operates Casa Mihale, a vacation rental in the quaint ocean front community of San Agustinillo, Mexico. Her house can be viewed and rented at

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