Give ‘Til It Feels Good, Part 2

In an earlier Course Meets World Commentary, “Give ‘Til It Feels Good,” I reported on a scientific study which showed that giving money to others increases the happiness of those who give. This week, I read about another study that has reached the same conclusion. This study, conducted by a research team from the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School, found that spending even a small amount of money on another person can make us significantly happier than if we had spent it on ourselves—even if we had believed the exact opposite prior to the giving. More and more, it seems that science is confirming a basic principle of A Course in Miracles: “To give and to receive are one in truth” (W-pI.108.Heading).

The study consisted of three different experiments. In the first, six hundred volunteers rated their happiness level, reported their annual income, and gave researchers a detailed accounting of their monthly spending. The data for all the volunteers was compiled and the relationship between happiness, income, and spending habits examined. The results? According to UBC psychologist Elizabeth Dunn, “Regardless of how much income each person made, those who spent money on others [through personal gifts and charitable giving] reported greater happiness, while those who spent more on themselves did not.”

In the second, sixteen employees of a Boston company rated their happiness level both before and after receiving a three-thousand to eight-thousand dollar bonus. According to Dunn’s team, “Employees who devoted more of their bonus to pro-social spending experienced greater happiness after receiving the bonus, and the manner in which they spent that bonus was a more important predictor of their happiness than the size of the bonus itself.”

In the final experiment, volunteers were given five to twenty dollars, and half of them were given instructions on how to spend it. Among the group who got the instructions, some were randomly assigned to spend the money on others, while others were assigned to spend the money on themselves. Those who spent the money on others reported greater happiness than those who spent it on themselves. Dunn concludes: “These findings suggest that very minor alterations in spending allocations—as little as $5—may be enough to produce real gains in happiness on a given day.”

I find the results of this study very striking. Not only do people feel happier when they spend their money on others, but this happiness comes even when doing so was not their choice (as with the randomly selected givers in the third experiment). I’m also struck by the fact that this generosity is a greater predictor of happiness than one’s level of income. It seems that there is something deep in our very being that rejoices when we give, as if giving were an essential part of our nature. A Course in Miracles claims that this is exactly the case. Giving is part of our nature; extension is our fundamental activity in Heaven. It is the source of our happiness there, just as it is the source of God’s happiness.

In this world, no doubt the motive behind the giving is crucial: If the motive is simply to butter people up so they’ll give something in return—what the Course calls “giving to get” (T-4.II.6:5)—then any “happiness” experienced will be the ego-based pseudo-happiness of getting a good bargain. But the Course is clear that giving is receiving in Heaven and on earth, and this law can be applied in an egoless way even to physical things. When we give away physical things like money as an expression of truly loving thoughts, the thoughts behind our gifts will return to us in some form—perhaps even a physical form – that will increase our happiness (see W-pI.187.1-2).

So, why not see for ourselves if these studies (and the Course) are on the mark? We can start small. What would happen if we decided to take, say, five dollars a week, ask the Holy Spirit where He would have us give it, purify our motives as much as possible with His help, and then actually give it away as He directs? We might just find, as the title of the article on which this piece is based suggests, that money can buy us happiness—but only if we spend it on someone else.

Source of material commented on: Money buys happiness — if you spend on someone else
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
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