Researchers at Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia are challenging the old, shop-worn thesis that money can't buy happiness. At least, they are challenging us to think about how we use money and how its use for unselfish reasons relates to one's personal happiness.
There is certainly nothing appealing or spiritual about poverty. Both the Bible and common sense say that poverty tempts one not only to envy but to stealing and violence. So there is a considerable body of research that says people become happier as they move from being very poor to lower middle class. All of us are more content with a life that has basic needs met, lets us feed and educate our children, and be free of constant worry over clothes and shelter.
That same body of research says that the impact on happiness is marginal to imaginary when people get above the poverty line. A whopping raise for the person making $45,000 to $100,000 won't make her healthy, make his siblings any easier to live with, or fix their marriage. Increments of monetary increase in this range are, in fact, the ones that frequently come laden with stress.
Put your money on another's need.It is here that we encounter one of the great paradoxes of modern life: the people who spend so much of their time in the pursuit of more and more money seem to experience dramatically diminishing returns in personal fulfillment and joy with life. This is surely why we say money doesn't buy happiness.
But now let's go back to the work of those researchers I mentioned earlier. As published in the March 21, 2008, issue of Science, their findings support the claim that money does buy happiness when it is spent on someone else. "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 in happiness on a given day," said Dr. Michael Norton. In other words, it isn't having more money that makes people happier so much as how they choose to spend their money. Spending on gifts to friends, educating young people, or sending kids to summer camp produces greater happiness for someone than, say, buying a flat-screen TV or a computer with more bells and whistles.
But didn't we already know that? It isn't money but the love of money that the Bible condemns so emphatically. There is no sin in working hard to provide for oneself, but greed and selfishness are sins of the greatest magnitude.
If you'd like to buy some happiness, put your money on another's need.