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Dial Up Your Happiness By Giving

I spend a lot of my time talking to others about how to grow their wealth and income streams.  Although this growth and accumulation stage is an important step in one's financial journey, I am starting to notice that I rarely have conversations about the flip side of this journey: how one's accumulated wealth will best be put to use.  Or in other words, how one will obtain the greatest satisfaction out of every dollar they eventually spend or gift.  I believe these two stages (accumulation and distribution) of one's financial story are of equal importance.

Maybe this subject hit me harder this week than normal, because after spending the last week with family, I find myself a bit more grounded and appreciative about life than usual.  Family has a way of making this happen like few other things can (well, most times!).  The positive output received per amount of time invested exceeds most all other activities.  For me, the only other pursuits that might have a greater feel-good output per time or dollar invested are volunteer work and/or charitable giving.

And I'm not alone in this feeling.

In one of my favorite books, Happy Money, authors Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton dedicate the entirety of Chapter 5 (titled "Invest in Others") to the benefits reaped when one gives back.  Their research finds that money spent on others has a much stronger correlation to happiness than money spent on ourselves.  This finding holds true for people in both rich and poor communities (and countries) alike.  And this all makes perfectly logical sense when you think about it, because human beings are hard-wired to work together and connect, as pointed out in Matthew Lieberman's book, Social.  At the end of the day, people from all walks of life are more-or-less the same.  We all receive a greater fulfillment from helping others than helping ourselves.

To summarize, research proves that giving helps us to be more satisfied with living.

Therefore, if you aren't actively involved in a charity or nonprofit (locally, nationally, or worldwide), I urge you to find an organization doing good in the world that resonates with you.  Give a little time or monetary donation to this organization and see if you don't receive more of a feel-good bang for your buck in return than you would have by spending that time or money on yourself.  Odds are strongly in your favor that you will!

Here are a some resources that can help you filter through the vast array of charitable organizations in existence, while also giving you insight into the effectiveness of their operations:

Give in to the spirit of giving

  • Charity Watch - Charity Watch dives deep into the efficiency of a charity's financials, so that you know how much of your money is going directly to good works
  • GiveWell - Expanding beyond bookkeeping financials, GiveWell aims to determine how much good a given program accomplished per dollar spent
  • Philanthropedia - Philanthropedia has an extensive database of financially responsible charities, providing reviews of over 780 nonprofits across 36 different causes

Being that we're now in the heart of the holiday season where most tend to be feeling more charitable, this topic will likely resonate a bit more clearly.  However, I encourage you to think about your plan to give back no matter the season.  Because this isn't just an investment in good works around the world.  Giving back is also an investment in you.

What are some charities or local organizations that you care deeply about?  Please share, as there are likely others who don't know about -- and may be interested in -- your cause.