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.

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.

3 Keys to Happiness

No matter who you are or where you live, every person has the same needs in life. Regardless of if you are living in the slums of Delhi in India, in rural Indonesia or a capital city in Australia, there are three keys, which are essentials of happiness.

Firstly, we require something to do. A job for us to put our hands to and to keep busy with – in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes Solomon says that it is good for us to find satisfaction in what we do, the vocation that we dedicate our lives to.

Secondly, we need something to love – a family, a group of friends, a community to be part of. This is what we call social capital – which is a measurement of cultural and social networks we have access to, that are built on trust, cooperation and connection. Being well connected to a community has been proven to reduce the probability of being poor – both financially and emotionally.

Thirdly, we desire something to hope for – be it a better future for us and our family, or a hope in a loving God.

This third one is incredibly significant. There is something about our journey in hope which is intrinsically connected to our happiness. If we have something to hope for, then we have access to joy.