Can’t Buy Me Love…But Maybe Happiness

We are discovering that money, whilst it can’t buy long term happiness, can in fact buy short term happiness (happiness blips), if we spend it on the right thing. Things like the right experience which can create a memory that last a lifetime, rather than a physical thing that depreciates and collects dust over a lifetime. Also, spending money on specific brands – you know, the ones that go out of their way to create a relationship with you which build a customer loyalty bordering on the fanatical. Or on those larger purchases that we have been dreaming of for a long time – big screen TV, or the furniture we have been waiting so long for. These can all create some form of happiness.

But, to get the best form of happiness from money, and to discover the key to a meaningful life, is to spend money on someone else. Studies have suggested this for a while, that we can find happiness in a generous act, and that as our incomes increase the levels of happiness we experience do not correlate. Meaning that our level of happiness does not increase at the same rate as our level of income – there is a certain point when our income level has no impact on how happy we. Perhaps that is because we are not spending our money on things that will create happiness, or perhaps it’s what Dave Ramsay suggests,

“Money won’t make you happy. Money just makes you more of what you already are”.

To find happiness and real purpose with our money is to spend it on someone else, donate it to charity or otherwise give it away. This will dramatically increases our level of happiness. Doing it once might make you happy for a day, but making it a lifelong habit can make a lasting difference in your life, and the lives of others.

Generosity Makes You Live Longer

“You don’t need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier. Just being a little more generous will suffice,” says Prof. Phillipe Tobler.

What is the secret to a long life? People love to search for that life hack that we can use which will magically make us live past 100. I’m sure you have seen the stories on the news of a person who has reached the amazing century and they all get asked what their secret is. There answers are usually anything from eating well, to getting enough sleep, or walking regularly, or never fighting with friends, or eating sushi everyday (to be honest, I think that last one was from a guy in Japan so it may not be relevant).

What if there was something else? What if we have been missing a key ingredient?

I think we have…and it is generosity.

Not only does generosity make you feel good and increase happiness, we now know that it can make you live longer. A recent study discovered that those who participated in acts of generosity (giving of time and money to others) had reduced stress levels which is a known risk factor for many diseases. But not a minor reduction in stress, their generosity had reduced their stress levels so much that it was no longer a factor in predicting their mortality. Meaning that for those people, stress had been taken off the list of things that could kill them. Their generosity reduced their mortality rate more than exercising four times a week and going to church regularly (which both improve mental health and longevity – so perhaps do all of the above).

So, if you are looking for a long, happy and healthy life, discover how you can be a little more generous.

Generosity is Good for Your Mental Health

It is something that studies have revealed frequently over the last decade, generosity is good for you. It feels good and it improves happiness.

It also turns out that the specific type of generous act can have an impact as well. A study was done to see what happens to the brain when people act generously. People were given the opportunity to give money to someone that they knew (someone they had been introduced to in the study) who needed it, a charity or to themselves. Now it is no surprise that when the study participants chose to give money to someone they knew who needed it, or to a charity, they felt good – better than when they gave it to themselves. The areas of the brain that ‘lit up’ where those that are linked to the reward system, providing a feeling of satisfaction and happiness. This is a common finding in a number of studies.

What was surprising is that when the participants chose to give money to someone that they knew, this action, which is called targeted support, was associated with diminished activity in the amygdala. The amygdala gets a great deal of attention nowadays because it is the section of the brain which is connected to emotions, the fight or flight response, anxiety, phobias and post traumatic stress disorder. This diminished activity leads to less anxiety and other mental health issues. Generosity is good for your mental health.

But it must be heartfelt rather than begrudgingly done. To get the true benefits of generosity for your mental health it is best to be generous on purpose. Be intentional with who and what you are giving to.

I am Selfish

People will generally talk about and teach on the topic they struggle with the most. Because in that struggle comes the wisdom and learning, it doesn’t mean that the person has overcome the struggle completely, it just means they are wrestling with it.

It’s interesting to note that I talk most about being generous and how that is good for you. What that really means that I am naturally a selfish person. In just about all areas of my life I am a person who is wrestling with self-centeredness but striving for generosity.

It is tough and has been ongoing for as long as I can remember.

The reason I find it a struggle is that generosity is difficult, costly, time consuming and is about other people. I find it hard to think of others when I am so conscious of my own needs and wants, but not theirs. It is natural for me to only see the world through my own eyes, because they are the only eyes I have.

So, I immerse myself in the idea of giving because I know that giving is better than receiving, those who are generous will be blessed and will be a blessing – basically giving is good for you and the world.

Jesus lived a most generous life. He saw the hearts and the hurts of those around Him. He walked with them, laughed with them, cried with them, healed them, prayed for them and then died for them. His compassion for people is something I want to emulate.

So I talk about generosity a lot – not because I have mastered it but because I am still wrestling.

Handling Rejection

I hear no quite a bit.

I work for a charity and I ask people to give generously to that charity. If I am doing my job then people will say ‘no’ to me on a regular basis, to either meeting with me, coming to an event, or being generous financially. I get ‘no’ on a much more regular basis than I get a ‘yes’, and it can hurt. It can create doubt and fear and a sense of rejection. To not go crazy, I choose to approach this ‘rejection’ with a particular mindset.

A while ago I spent some time working in radio and at the time (things may have shifted a little now) the adage was that someone needed to hear an advertisement 7 times before they decided to engage with it. Essentially, on average, it takes time for people to get comfortable with a message or product before they start to build trust and get to the point where they look at buying or connecting.

I now take the same approach with every conversation I have with someone or when I speak at an event. I talk proudly about Opportunity International and how we are ending poverty but at the same time I recognise that it could be the first time that someone has heard of the organisation and what we do, or the first time they have heard about giving to charity. I can’t expect them to jump on board straight away, but this is the first important step. It could also be the third or fourth time, or it could be the seventh time and they say yes and support generously. It just depends on the person and their journey.

I can’t tell you the amount of times I have had people tell me that they have heard me speak a few times before and now they are ready to support.

If people say no to me, that’s okay, it’s not the ‘seventh’ time for them yet. My job is to keep the relationship going so they can get to that point.

I also know that some people will never come around, that’s okay too. They are on their own journey and whilst I believe being generous is good for everyone, we all have to come to that place in our own time and on our own terms.

The Generous Life

“You will not be satisfied until you step into a life of generosity” Jason Jaggard

I find it most difficult on Monday mornings. Not every one, but generally it’s a Monday. The day brings with it a sense of longing, questioning and searching. Is what I am doing really worthwhile? What if I am just wasting my time? What if no one else gets it? Is this really what I want to be doing for the rest of my life?

Perhaps you know these questions and the driving force behind them, which is what I would call the search for purpose. What motivates my behaviours? Why do I do what I do?

Some will suggest that we all have a calling – something specific that we are placed on this earth to do and if we don’t find what that is we can miss our calling and then ultimately miss our purpose in life.

Others think that we don’t have a specific task or calling but we are to be the best that we can be wherever we end up. It’s more about the attitude than the action.

If you spend enough time with me you will discover that I don’t go to many extremes, but I like to find somewhere in between. (Why don’t we have both?)

I think we all have certain things that we are called to do, they may turn into our vocation or they may be specific actions along the journey. At the same time the attitude is fundamental, perhaps even more important.

If we, as people are able to act out in generosity, then that attitude will take any action that we do and make it amazing.

Cat Swinging

You know the phrase, ‘there’s not enough room to swing a cat’ – it doesn’t get used much any more but it was a colloquial way to say that an area or room was very small.

One reason that we don’t hear that phrase today is that, thanks to the internet, the world has fallen deeply in love with cats and no one in their right mind would think about swinging one around, even though the original meaning of the cat referred to was a type of whip – which carries with it its own set of issues.

Another reason that we don’t hear it much anymore, is that in Australia and our homes are so big, we have literally run out of opportunities to use it.

You see, Australia has the largest homes per square metre in the world and Western Australia has the largest houses in the country with the largest houses.

Out of every nation on the planet, out of the billions of homes from New Zealand to Fiji, Greenland to USA, Italy to South Africa, homes in Australia are, on average, bigger than all other opponents. Not that it’s a competition but we are winning – if winning was creating more space to put stuff in that we don’t use nor need. 1st place Australia. Something to be proud of…or not.

Normally I discourage people from comparing themselves to others, but in this situation I think it is important for us as a nation to take stock of what we have. In this case, we have enough room to swing a cat and enough money to build walls around that room so that we have somewhere to come to at the end of every day. Nobody else in the world has what we have. Nobody.

Now, don’t feel guilty about that (it’s too late anyway, it’s built, set in stone/brick so to speak), but instead use what you have (wealth) to make this world a better place (by donating to Opportunity International). It’s not about getting everyone in the world a big house, but it is about providing every person with an Opportunity to reach their full potential and provide for their family.

Gratitude Breeds Generosity

‘From the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.’

Have you ever wondered how some people just seem to be so happy all the time? It can be quite disconcerting as you go about your day, struggling through your afternoon slump, stressing about your upcoming deadline, cursing how quickly your last coffee was consumed, and then Mr. or Mrs. Happy pop up and share their joy of life with you, offer you a helpful suggestion with your deadline and source another coffee for you. I mean, who do they think they are? Even if you can’t think of someone you know who is like this, believe me, they are out there.

The most amazing thing is that when you find out more about these people and hear their story, you usually discover that they have had to endure, and possibly still are enduring, some incredibly difficult life circumstances, tragedy and loss. It is most often unfair and sad, yet there they stand with a smile on their face. Not a fake one either (I thought that was their trick for a while, but it is real happiness).

It turns out that, whilst not everyone who goes through hardship surfaces with a happy demeanour, those that do manage to find something in life that they are grateful for. It is a conscious effort, every day to find the good things they have and over time, that sense of gratitude overflows into generosity towards others. Gratitude breeds generosity, in all areas of life. You cannot stop it.

All action that we take is motivated by something internal.

Equality…and cake.

Have you ever been given the responsibility of cutting a birthday cake for children?

The need to get each piece the exact same size has never been so great, and when you can’t do that, each child knows who has the biggest piece and who’s piece is smallest. Of course, in that situation the easiest thing to do is to take some from the biggest piece and give it to the child with the smallest piece, so things are equal.

But you know that things are not that simple. It doesn’t matter how much you explain it with logic, and even though each child gets the same amount, the saddest child in the room is always the one who has had something taken from them. They are unable to focus on anything else except for their cake – even if it ended up being distributed with equality, they can only see what they lost.

We know what inequality is; when people are oppressed, there is injustice, parts of the community are unable to reach their full potential, and society is at odds with itself. We notice it acutely when we feel it ourselves. When, for us as individuals, life is not fair, we are not getting what we deserve, what we have worked so hard for. Somebody has taken our cake.

But there is another side to inequality and that is privilege. If there was no privilege, then inequality would not exist. From a place of privilege, it is a little difficult to notice when someone else is oppressed. It requires a courageous ability to empathise with those who are different from us; different in the way they think and approach life – it is an act of generosity to assist those who are living in the oppressed side of inequality to bring about equality. It sounds great, but the difficulty when part of our community begins to move from inequality towards equality is it usually creates a disturbance. The power that those in privilege are used to experiencing, begins to shift. When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression so moves towards equality are hindered by those in privilege, even if they want equality in theory.

We live in a world of inequality. More often than not in Australia, our experience of inequality is through privilege. We’ve been handed a very big piece of cake*. There is no one to take it off us and redistribute it to others who are oppressed so it is up to us to do that individually. But it is going to cost us. It will disrupt the power that we have.

The good news is that it doesn’t take much to get started – a gift of $100 is enough to create a small loan for a mother living in poverty in Asia so she can start a business and begin the journey out of the poverty cycle. A small, but important step in the journey of equality – giving up some of our financial power to empower someone else.

*Metaphorical cake.

Look How Far You Have Come!

Riding a bike is easy, once you know how. When you know how, it’s almost impossible to remember what it was like to not be able to ride a bike. It’s something that you never forget how to do, it’s like, well, riding a bike.

It’s not until someone points out to you that there was a time that you didn’t know how, that you can stop and see just how far you have come.

It’s the same with anything in life. Each day we learn and grow and it’s not until someone creates a space for us to stop and reflect on where we have come from and what we have achieved that we begin to understand how far we really have come. I’m not the same person I was 30 years ago, or 20 years ago, or 10, or 5. I’m not the same person I was 12 months ago. My hope is that my life will always be like that as I continue to grow and learn.

If it’s true for me, it’s true for you and for our world. In relation to some of the big issues in our world we have come such a long way. Take poverty for example: since 1990 over 1 billion people have moved out of extreme poverty, a larger percentage of girls are in school, about 50,000 less children under the age of 5 are dying every single day because of hunger and easily curable diseases. We have made some incredible progress.

The journey is far from over though, with much work to do (jump on board and help us out!), but we have great reason to hope and to take time to stop and say, look how far we have come.