Saturday, October 10, 2015

"Happiness Comes from Giving, Not Buying and Having"

This is from Psychology Today and was written by Steve Taylor Ph.D.

If wealth bought well-being Bill Gates and Carlos Slim would be the happiest men in the world.

By the way, when Andrew Carnegie died, he had given away all his fortune. For that matter, my dentist once told me I was stupid and big-hearted. I just smiled.


So many of us strive so hard for material success that you might think there was a clear relationship between wealth and happiness. The media and our governments encourage us to believe this, since they need us to keep earning and spending to boost economic growth. From school onwards, we’re taught that long term well-being stems from achievement and economic prosperity - from ‘getting on’ or ‘making it’, accumulating more and more wealth, achievement and success.

Consequently, it comes as a shock for many people to learn that there is no straightforward relationship between wealth and well-being. Once our basic material needs are satisfied (i.e. once we’re assured of regular food and adequate shelter and a basic degree of financial security), wealth only has a negligible effect on well-being. For example, studies have shown that, in general, lottery winners do not become significantly happier than they were before, and that even extremely rich people - such as billionaires - are not significantly happier than others. Studies have shown that American and British people are less contented now than they were 50 years ago, although their material wealth is much higher. On an international level, there does appear to some correlation between wealth and well-being, partly because there are many countries in the world where people’s basic material needs are not satisfied. But this correlation is not a straightforward one, since wealthier countries tend to be more politically stable, more peaceful and democratic, with less oppression and more freedom - all of which are themselves important factors in well-being.

So why do put so much effort into acquiring wealth and material goods? You could compare it to a man who keeps knocking at a door, even though he’s been told that the person he’s looking for isn’t at home. ‘But he must be in there!” he shouts, and barges in to explore the house. He storms out again, but returns to the house a couple of minutes later, to knock again. Seeking well-being through material success is just as irrational as this.

Well-Being through Giving

If anything, it appears that there is a relationship between non-materialism and well-being. While possessing wealth and material goods doesn’t lead to happiness, giving them away actually does. Generosity is strongly associated with well-being. For example, studies of people who practice volunteering have shown that they have better psychological and mental health and increased longevity. The benefits of volunteering have been found to be greater than taking up exercise, or attending religious services - in fact, even greater than giving up smoking. Another study found that, when people were given a sum of money, they gained more well-being if they spent it on other people, or gave it away, rather than spending it on themselves. This sense of well-being is more than just feeling good about ourselves - it comes from a powerful sense of connection to others, an empathic and compassionate transcendence of separateness, and of our own self-centerdness.

In fact, paradoxically, another study has shown that this is one way in which money actually can bring happiness: if you give away the money you earn. This research - by Dunn, Gilbert and Wilson - also showed that money is more likely to bring happiness is you spend it on experiences, rather than material goods. Another study (by Joseph Chancellor and Sonja Lyubomirsky) has suggested that consciously living a lifestyle of ‘strategic underconsumption’ (or thrift) can also lead to well-being.

So if you really want enhance your well-being - and as long as your basic material needs are satisfied - don’t try to accumulate money in your bank account, and don’t treat yourself to material goods you don’t really need. Be more generous and altruistic - increase the amount of money you give to people in need, give more of your time to volunteering, or spend more time helping other people, or behaving more kindly to everyone around you. Ignore the ‘happiness means consumption’ messages we’re bombarded with by the media. A lifestyle of generosity and under-consumption may not suit the needs of economists and politicians - but it will certainly make us happier.

We would do well to heed the words of the American Indian, Ohiyesa, speaking of his Sioux people:

‘It was our belief that the love of possessions is a weakness to be overcome. Its appeal is to the material part, and if allowed its way, it will in time disturb one’s spiritual balance. Therefore, children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the happiness of giving.’

12 comments:

Mindstorm said...

The happiness of giving? I'm curious how the confounding variables were dealt with. Like "Does it matter if other people know of my generosity?" or "Does it matter if I would be able to observe the results of my generosity?" and so on.

Mindstorm said...

Or, for example, "Does it matter how closely related to me (either by kinship or friendship) are the recipients of my generosity?"

I recall that social sciences studies are known for being notoriously unreliable.... :)

ray said...

"Another study found that, when people were given a sum of money, they gained more well-being if they spent it on other people, or gave it away, rather than spending it on themselves. This sense of well-being is more than just feeling good about ourselves - it comes from a powerful sense of connection to others, an empathic and compassionate transcendence of separateness, and of our own self-centerdness."



Absolutely.

The Bible goes so far as recommending a kind of disregard of our own charity, even while practicing it, so it maintains its full effect, so we don't get proud, and so the glory arrives at Father.

People should try this stuff sometimes. It's not as hard as it sounds lol.


Mindstorm said...

More importantly, what about the other side of the dynamic? Does being on the receiving end of charity (or welfare) make you happier, or perhaps frustrated with yourself, perhaps guilty, perhaps resentful? Does the charity dynamic in general represent a positive, zero, or negative sum game in terms of happiness? Is there a difference between temporary disaster relief and ongoing, long-term charity? What is better from the 'outside view', a charitable society, or a society with the minimal need for charity?

Mindstorm said...

^ "perhaps feeling guilty,"
"from the outside point of view"

Mindstorm said...

http://pseudoerasmus.com/2015/10/04/ce/ - try the paragraph titled "Intelligence and Cooperation", Bob. Interesting conclusions.

Mindstorm said...

http://www.amazon.com/Hive-Mind-Your-Nations-Matters-ebook/dp/B015PS7DBK - why the ebook is only a little cheaper to hardcover? Not buying.

Mindstorm said...

^ From the blurb: "freer immigration."
Ha! Fat chance:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heritability_of_IQ
I would rather believe Jensen than Lewontin from "Lewontin's fallacy".

Anonymous said...

"Once our basic material needs are satisfied (i.e. once we’re assured of regular food and adequate shelter and a basic degree of financial security), wealth only has a negligible effect on well-being."

I recall seeing a study somewhere- I forget where- that calculated for every state in the US the household income level above which happiness did not significantly increase. I think it was somewhere around $70k per year, varying from state to state (higher in an expensive state like Massachusetts or California, lower in cheap states like Arkansas). Households making $60k were generally happier than those making $45k, but there was no appreciable difference between the $90k families and the $250k families. Already-wealthy people who burn themselves out trying to scrape together every extra nickel are a lot like those crazy Hoarders you see on TV, just with nicer stuff. If you have enough to raise a family in pleasant middle-class comfort and still sock away a little for a rainy-day fund, you've got enough to be as happy as you'll ever be.

Anonymous said...

It is evident. Rich people have problems too.
1) Jack Ma, the richest man in China has allegedly said he is not happy
2) The age to be rich is between 18 and 35, when you can supposedly use the money to get women and live the good life. However, by that age you are likely to end up the wrong way (losign your fortune, drugs, STD, ecc, due to lack of knowledge of life)
3) Men who made huge fortunes without unacceptable practices spent the best part of their life doing sacrifices for it. When they get the money, they don't want to sepnd it in what they originally did
4) Tycoons that run multibillion dollar businesses and have integrity are aware that one wrong decision they make can leave thousands of people in the street unemployed

On

ray said...

'If you have enough to raise a family in pleasant middle-class comfort and still sock away a little for a rainy-day fund, you've got enough to be as happy as you'll ever be.'


Agree. It's human nature.

Bob Wallace said...

"Men who made huge fortunes without unacceptable practices spent the best part of their life doing sacrifices for it. When they get the money, they don't want to spend it in what they originally did"

I've known men who spent their entire lives becoming rich and when they did they did they still were unhappy.