In seeking to answer the age-old question of whether money can buy happiness, Michael Norton, in his 2011 TEDx talk, gave an answer that had a slight twist to it: Yes, money can buy happiness, but on the condition that we spend it on others, not on ourselves.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: spending money on yourself sure lends itself to happiness, or at least makes it easier to attain. You’re right to think this: research does reveal that higher income is correlated with higher levels of happiness.
Yet research also backs up the idea that materialism alone will not make us happy.
Norton’s conclusion, then, should cause us all to reflect on how we perceive happiness. While it is undoubtedly important that we take the time to indulge in ourselves, it is just as important that we take the time to give back, whether that be to our community or to our loved ones. And every little bit counts. As Norton says about his findings:
What we see again…is that the specific way that you spend on other people isn’t nearly as important as the fact that you spend on other people…So you don’t have to do amazing things with your money to make yourself happy: you can do small, trivial things and yet still get these benefits….
Remember this next time you’re thinking about possibly donating your time or money, or whether you’re mulling over participating in a charitable team build. Giving back has benefits that transcend merely helping the less fortunate among us.