Why A Stranger May Hold The Key To Your Happiness

Michael Norton’s inspiring TEDx talk, “How To Buy Happiness,” is a must watch. Here’s why.

It turns out money can buy you happiness—if you spend it on the right stuff.

Michael Norton, a Harvard Business School professor, studies how we feel about what we buy and spend. He shared his research on money and happiness in a TEDx talk, “How To Buy Happiness.”

“Maybe the reason that money doesn’t make us happy is that we’re always spending it on the wrong things, and in particular, we’re always spending it on ourselves, and we thought: I wonder what would happen if people spent more of their money on other people,” he said.

To test his hypothesis, the Harvard professor gave envelopes filled with $5-$20 to people in Canada. At the start of the day, he asked them how happy they felt. Then, he told one group to spend the money on other people and a second group to spend the money on themselves. At the end of the day, he asked people from both groups how happy they felt.

“People who spent money on other people got happier,” while those who spent on themselves didn’t, he said. The amount of money given didn’t matter—people who gave $5 or $20 got the same “happiness” boost.

“You don’t have to do amazing things with your money to make yourself happy. You can do small, trivial things and still get benefits,” he said.

Michael has now studied the effects of giving in 136 countries around the world, and his findings hold true. “People who give money to charity are happier people than people who don’t give money to charity,” he said.

After studying global charitable giving, Michael expanded the experiment to learn more about the impact of pro-social incentives (e.g., bonuses you give away) in the workplace. He gave some teams money and told them to spend it on their individual needs; others were told to spend it on their teammates.

“Teams that are pro-social sell more stuff than teams that only got money for themselves,” Michael found.

Altruism has also been shown to relieve pain. Another team of researchers found people reported that donating blood hurt less than having their blood drawn for a routine test with a thicker needle. Studies link acts of kindness with all kinds of better health outcomes, including lower risk of early death and lower inflammation. Spending money on others can even lead to lower blood pressure and better cardiovascular health: yes, science has shown giving is good for your heart.

None of these findings are surprising to GlobalGiving’s Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships Ingrid Embree, who helps companies from Adobe to Zoom meet employee engagement and global citizenship goals.

“We’ve developed many custom gift card programs for companies that want to foster a culture of giving in the workplace, and the impact on employee morale is really quite incredible,” Ingrid said.

Employees at Dell EMC, a global technology company that gave employees eCards to donate to charities of their choice, told GlobalGiving that the act of giving made them feel good about where they worked.

“I am really proud that Dell EMC has this opportunity. It is far better to make a monetary donation for a worthwhile cause than receiving a trinket. It’s wonderful to work for a company that cares about not only its employees but the world around us!” one employee said.

Ready to boost employee happiness? Learn more about GlobalGiving Gift Card programs for companies and kind-hearted people. We make it easy to give to local projects anywhere in the world.


Featured Photo: Help Nicaragua's Poor Climb Out of Poverty by Opportunity International

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