Altruistic Spending to Promote Happiness and Wellbeing

You’ve most likely heard the phrase, “Money can’t buy happiness.” However, a recent Harvard Business School study on prosocial spending and wellbeing begs to differ. The study concluded that altruistic spending demonstrates a positive correlation with happiness and general wellbeing, regardless of income.

Can Money Buy Happiness?

Paradoxically, many Americans spend the majority of their time and energy trying to make as much money as possible despite evidence suggesting that money won’t actually make them happier. However, Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and his colleagues from the University of British Columbia, Elizabeth Dunn and Lara Aknin wondered if the issue of happiness was less about the amount of money a person has, and more about where and how they spend it. To test their theory, the group conducted several studies to learn more about the ways in which money can, in fact, buy happiness. Specifically, the findings suggest that when people spend money prosocially, to fund charities and offer kindness to others, instead of on themselves, they reported significantly greater levels of happiness.

According to a researcher, “Intentional activities–practices in which people actively and effortfully choose to engage–may represent a promising route to lasting happiness. Supporting this premise, our work demonstrates that how people choose to spend their money is at least as important as how much money they make.” The researcher goes on to explain, “Our findings suggest that very minor alterations in spending allocations–as little as $5 in our final study–may be sufficient to produce non-trivial gains on happiness on a given day.” 

How To: Altruistic Spending

There are countless different ways to practice altruistic spending. Many of them are simple, like taking a friend out for coffee or giving a loved one a heartfelt gift. For those that are interested in social issues and charitable causes, however, altruistic spending could provide you with the opportunity to stand up for and support something that you are passionate about. Here is a quick checklist to get you started:

  1. Get educated: There are so many causes globally that would benefit from your kindness and support. Take the time to educate yourself on important issues globally and decide which specific causes you’d like to play an active role in supporting.
  2. Do your research: Once you have chosen the causes you want to support, begin doing your research on the various organizations that have been fighting for them. Some important questions to ask include how long they have been around, how reputable they are, how they governed, how do they spend their money, what services do they offer, are they ethical, have they achieved positive results, and what impact have they made.
  3. Donate: Once you have compiled a list of organizations, you can visit their websites and find out how to donate! If you have a longer list of organizations you want to support, consider creating a monthly rotation in which you donate to one or two at a time. Keep in mind that it’s less about how much you are donating and more about the act of doing good and spreading kindness itself. It feels good to give and every bit counts! 
  4. Get Involved: If you’re feeling ambitious and have some spare time on your hands, you might want to take it a step further and look for ways to get involved. Most charitable organizations offer opportunities to volunteer with and engage in the community. Use the contact info provided on their website to reach out for specifics!

The Cycle of Altruism

We’ve always known that kindness and helping others makes us happy. Still, it’s nice to know that there’s some science behind this phenomenon. The best part is that happiness tends to inspire even more kindness, perpetuating the cycle of altruism!

Remember, money isn’t the only way to give back. You can also donate your time and efforts, as well as commit to getting educated and sharing information with others. Experiment with what works best for you and cultivate your own version of altruism to promote happiness and wellness in your life. What do you have to lose!

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