It turns out that whoever said money can’t buy you happiness was wrong.
Money can buy you happiness, as long as you give some of the money away.
Dunn and colleagues (2008) conducted three studies that examined the relationship between Americans’ spending habits and their self-reported happiness. The first study was a national survey conducted on 632 Americans that asked to detail their income and spending habits. The participants were also asked to rate their general happiness level.
The researchers found that two things were correlated with greater general happiness levels — higher income (naturally) and spending on gifts for other people or money given to charity.
One could argue, well, hey, of course having more income can make you happy… But maybe it’s related to either the dollar amount given, or the fact that people who are more likely to give money to charity and others are just inherently happier people by character. So the researchers set out to examine those hypotheses in two separate followup experiments.
In a small, second study, 16 employees were asked about their general happiness levels before and after receiving their annual bonus. No matter what the size of the actual bonus, employees who spent more of their bonus money on others or charity reported greater general happiness levels than those who spent more of it on themselves.
Finally, in a third study of 46 people, researchers discovered that participants who were directed to spend a small amount of money on others (either $5 or $20) reported greater feelings of happiness than those who were directed to spend the same amounts on themselves. Again, the dollar amount didn’t matter.
The third study suggests that even when the choice isn’t ours, we still feel the happiness effects of giving away money to others. And even when the actual value is small ($5).
So indeed, money can buy you happiness. As long as you give some of it away.
Dunn, EW, et al. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319(5870) 1687-1688.