Can money buy happiness?

Contrary to popular belief, maybe it can. It depends on who you spend it on.

Rev. Yme Woensdregt

Can money buy happiness? Most of us would respond with a resounding “No!” Many of us have had that lesson drummed into us from our earliest days. I can’t count the number of times my father told me that money would never buy me happiness.

It’s been one of those philosophical truisms which we’ve grown up with. The ancient Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus believed that “Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”

This kind of attitude has also provided plenty of fodder for comedians like Groucho Marx: “While money can’t buy happiness, it certainly lets you choose your own form of misery.”

It came as quite a surprise to me when I heard a TED talk by Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School. You can hear the results of his research at www.TED.com. He begs to differ with this attitude. As a result of some very clever and creative experiments he and his team devised to try and measure whether money can in fact buy happiness, he has learned some surprising things.

What he has learned is that money can indeed buy happiness. The problem is not in the money. The problem comes with how we spend it. “If you think money can’t buy happiness, you’re just not spending it right,” he says.

He asks us to imagine how we normally spend our money. Usually, we tend to spend money mostly on ourselves. When people fantasize about winning the lottery, they often imagine how all that money will set them free from their daily worries. They think of what they would get for themselves.

Often, for lottery winners, the story is quite different. When people win the lottery, they often go broke very quickly. They begin to resent family members and friends who ask for financial help, and so people who have won the lottery often become anti–social, simply to protect themselves against all those who approach them with their hands out. But that’s a different column.

Norton devised one experiment with UBC undergraduates. He gave those who agreed to participate different amounts of money. One group was told to spend the money on themselves. Buy whatever they liked with the $5 or the $20 they were given. So they did — makeup, or something they wanted, or a cup of Starbuck’s. The other group was told to spend the money on someone else.

At the end of the day, his team interviewed the students and asked them how happy their purchases had made them.

Those who spent the money on themselves were neither more nor less happy. It just was something they did as part of the experiment. The other group, however, reported that they felt happier about themselves at the end of the day.

Other experiments had very similar results. It didn’t matter how much money people were given, or what they bought. The only thing which made a difference was whether you spent the money on yourself, or on someone else.

They wondered if it was a cultural phenomenon, so they replicated the experiments in poorer countries such as Uganda. They found exactly the same results. People spent the money differently, but the only thing which made a difference was whether you spent the money on yourself, or on someone else.

It doesn’t matter how you spend the money. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend. What makes a significant difference is whether you spend the money on yourself or on another person.

Can money buy happiness? Yes … provided you spend the money on someone other than yourself.

People who give money to charity are happier than people who don’t. This seems to be universally true.

An ancient Christian writer once wrote, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” That was the apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 9. It seems he may have been on to something.

We often talk about “giving until it hurts”. This kind of research stands those opinions on their heads. So let me invite you to buy some happiness. Don’t give until it hurts. “Give — and keep on giving — until you can’t stop smiling.”

Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at

Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook

Just Posted

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

Students at Creston Valley Secondary School put together an art installation of a replica residential school room. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Creston students create art installation of residential school room

The replica was decorated with a small bed, school uniform, and notes written with pleas for help

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

1914
It happened this week in 1914

June 13 - 19: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the archived newspapers… Continue reading

Cranbrook Arts has opened the doors of their  new gallery space to the public with their inaugural exhibit, Kootenay’s Best.
‘Kootenay’s Best’ opens Cranbrook Arts’ new gallery

This exhibit has been in the works for the past several months and features the work of more than 50 emerging and established artists from across the Kootenays

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Most Read