Michael Norton’s talk on the purchasability of happiness was one of the first TED talks I ever watched. If you can’t spare 10 minutes to watch the video below, I will do my best to summarize his presentation on the relationship between money and happiness.
According to Norton, and against the old adage, you can buy happiness. Surprisingly, the method of utilizing that money to achieve happiness is simple, and does not include the bizarre idea of “retail therapy”. His points are as follows:
1. Spending money on other people yields greater returns than spending on yourself.
2. Level of happiness does not depend on the amount of money that is spent on someone else.
3. Reason for spending money on others does not make a significant difference.
In other words, give what you can, for whatever reason you desire. Donate to benefit the affordable housing problem, or donate to support my dream of biking across America. Whatever the reason, give.
The study cited in the TED talk claims that, across countries, people who give money to charity report higher levels of happiness. Of course, this correlation should not be confused with a causal relationship. It is possible (and makes sense) that happier people are more likely to donate more to charity. Or maybe these people have discovered the secret, and are engaged in a positive loop of happiness and philanthropy.
The existence of “selfish altruism” has also been pinpointed by natural science. Helping others makes us feel good. Psychologists have proved this. Neuroscientists have located the part of the brain linked with happiness resulting from altruistic acts, and it’s a primitive part. We are actually hardwired for altruism. It kept us alive during the ice ages, and will continue to keep our societies running.
So, do what you know is instinctively right. Donate, and discover that happiness is not so elusive after all.
If you’re not one to do things based on intuition and natural tendency, I encourage you to test Michael Norton’s thesis empirically, and make your own conclusions.
Either way, I readily offer you this opportunity to buy happiness. What do you have to lose?