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Money Can Buy You Happiness

I’m a geek for NPR. It is on 99.9% of the time that I’m in my car. It’s how I get my news, many ideas, and, in general, something “adult,” as opposed to the copious amounts of Paw Patrol, Team Umizoomi, and Scooby Doo that are constantly on or talked about at my house.

This afternoon, after visiting the local coffee shop, I was headed back to the office during the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I found this one, specific Ted Talk very interesting. “Can Money Buy You Happiness?” And the answer is: Well, maybe, depending on how you spend it.

Michael Norton, professor of Harvard Business School was the speaker.  He began his TED Talk with this, “…I want to talk, today, about money and happiness, which are two things that a lot of us spend a lot of our time thinking about, either trying to earn them or trying to increase them. And a lot of us resonate with this phrase so we see it in religions and self-help books, that money can’t buy happiness. And I want to suggest, today, that, in fact, that’s wrong.” He goes on to explain the theory that what people actually DO with their money likely makes a big difference in their overall happiness.

He and a group of social scientists tested this theory by asking random strangers in Vancouver how happy they were… like, on a scale of 1-10. In general, most people answered anywhere between 7, 8, or 9. They then gave one group of individuals an envelope with money, $5 or $20, and instructions that they were to spend it on themselves by 5pm that evening. Most people just stuck it in their wallets and later, went on to buy a coffee, some makeup, etc.  Nothing too exciting. When they were asked their happiness number later that day, it almost always remained the same as previously answered. “In other words, there’s no real impact of spending money on yourself.”

A second group of individuals were given the same denomination, but with instructions to spend the money on someone else. “People who we told to spend on other people did different, interesting things. So, for example, one woman bought a stuffed animal for her niece. Many people gave money to homeless people, they gave money to street performers.”  When asked, later in the day what their happiness number was? It usually went up by at least 1 point. Voila, they were happier!

This study has been repeated, in one form or another in many countries. Many, much poorer than Canada. Still, the aspect of spending money on others (or charity) brought greater happiness than spending on one’s self. “So you don’t have to do amazing things with your money to make yourself happy. You can do small, trivial things, and you’ll still get these benefits from doing this. Start yourself on the process of thinking, again, less about how can I spend money on myself?  And more about if I’ve got $5 or $15, what can I do to benefit other people?  Because, ultimately, when you do that, you’ll find out you’ll benefit yourself much more.”

I’ve been preaching so much lately on “self-care” and taking the time to do/buy something for yourself, that I completely forgot about the aspect of doing for others (DUH).  After all, isn’t that what I’m always doing as a mother, massage therapist, and doula? Even when I, myself, am all out of “give,” the smile on someone’s face when I surprise them with their favorite coffee, chocolate, or gift certificate for something they wouldn’t normally purchase for themselves (because we usually stick with boring, routine things, right?), still does, in fact, help to refill my tank a bit.

Moral of the story is: when you spend money on others, you spend it on less “routine” or “mundane” things for them. It makes you think about your money, differently than you usually would. In the end, those who spend on others, generally are happier at the end of the day.


Follow the links below to the original TED Radio Hour from NPR show.


(Transcript) http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=297888687


(Audio) http://www.npr.org/2014/04/04/297888687/can-money-buy-you-happiness

© Bridgette A. Becker, The Mind Body Collective, 2016