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Does Money Buy Happiness?

I recently traveled to our nation’s capital and, whenever I’m in D.C., I make a point of visiting the Rotunda of the National Archives Building to see one of the most important documents ever penned, The Declaration of Independence. I love reading about the unalienable rights. (Don’t worry; this isn’t going to be a history lesson.) I particularly appreciate that we each have the right to the “pursuit of Happiness.” For each of us, this pursuit may have some similarities but, most assuredly, will have some differences as well.

Here’s what’s on my short list for my pursuit of happiness: Like many of you, I love to spend quality time with my family and friends. I also love going on hikes up in the mountains with my loyal dog, Hemp. My pursuit would also include spending some time on the river with my dad with a fly rod in hand. Traveling and seeing what this beautiful world has to offer certainly makes me happy. Most recently, it would include me coming back home to USU in my new role as the director of development for the College of Science.

But if I were to tell you, you could increase your happiness – even if you’re already a happy person – would you be interested? I think most people are open to the idea of being happier.

In his 2008 book, Gross National Happiness, bestselling author Arthur C. Brooks writes, “The true way to buy happiness is by giving away what we value.”

According to Brooks, when we give charitably, either of our time, money or even our blood (yes, you read correctly, even our blood), we’re happier than people who don’t give. He cites years and years of data that overwhelmingly support this idea.

Brooks references a survey that reveals people who give money to charity are 43 percent more likely than nongivers to say they are “very happy.” He also points out that volunteers are 42 percent more likely to report being “very happy” than non-volunteers.

Here are some additional compelling stats Brooks shares – starting with blood. You are 43 percent more likely to say you are very happy if you donate blood two or three times a year. People who give money are 34 percent less likely than non-givers to say they ever feel “so sad nothing could cheer [them] up.” Givers are also 68 percent less likely to report ever feeling “hopeless.”

Apparently, it doesn’t matter whether a gift is religious or secular.

“Both leave people equally happy, and far happier than people who don’t give,” Brooks writes. “If two people are identical in terms of income, education, age, religion, politics, sex, and family circumstances—but one volunteers once more than the other each week—the one who volunteers more will be half again as likely to say he or she is very happy.”

I have witnessed this first-hand, multiple times as I’ve worked this past year and a half for the College of Science. When I tell people what I do for a living. I get all kinds of responses. Often, people say they could never approach others and ask them for their money. I fear they imagine me as a high-pressured used car salesman in a baby blue polyester suit trying to swindle people out of their money.

Here’s what’s really going on: I get to be with people when they are their very best selves; that is, when they are their happiest selves. I have never received a gift from someone who is sad or remorseful, no matter the size of the gift. I’ve never met anyone who regrets giving. I have received donations from people of all income levels and various amounts. I can report that all have been very happy and, in many cases, I have “ witnessed tears of joy. It is a very humbling role, to witness the transaction of giving, which is far more than dollar signs. I see a visible positive change within that individual. I’ve learned when people give something of value, they are giving their personal values; it’s a glimpse into their heart.

Brooks offers an important message that I think is worth repeating and teaching others. He says, “If you asked me how you could be happier and I told you to vote (a certain way) or go to church, you might justifiably tell me to go jump in the lake. But if I told you to give to charity, I would be giving you excellent advice. Everybody can give, and give more, today. Each and every one of us can afford to dig a little deeper— whether into our wallets or into our free time. So give—write a check, volunteer; donate the things you no longer need (or even better, things you still do need). And remember: I’m not trying to lecture you on how to be a better person—just a happier one.”

While reading this article, you may have asked yourself this question: Does giving to charity make you happier or do happier people give to charities? Stay tuned for my next article in the Spring 2017 edition of Discovery, where I will address this question.

Until then, trust me. Giving will make you happier.

PATRICK SVEDIN

Director of Development, USU College of Science