Give It Away, It Will Make You Happy

A few weeks ago wrote a post about the idea that spending your money and/or your time on others should make you more happy.  Also if you spend either resource on others it causes you to feel a sense of abundance, so you feel better about your time even if you actually have less of it.

So to field test the idea I decided to spend $100 of my spending cash over the last month on other people and to spend five hours a week on others.  So how did it go?

The cash was fairly easy to track since I really only spent it on two things.  The first was I took a friend out for lunch.  Yet I realized I was getting something as well out of that deal.  So I tried to think of something where I won’t get something for my self at the same time.  Then I had an idea.  My son’s class is raising money for a local spray park as a project.  They collected the recycling from the lunch rooms and used that money as donations.  So I decided to help motivate the kids.  I sent a note to school saying I would match everything they raised for a two week period.  That ended up being $85, so that blew the rest of my budget.

For time I mainly spent my time on my kids.  So when Daddy was asked to play soccer, I said yes (even if I had other things to do).  I played Wii games with them, went to the park, we went to a family dance at the school, played Lego and generally just spent more time with them.  This isn’t to say I never spent time with them at the start of this, but I tried to do more of it regardless of what I wanted to do (the chores waited, or that book I wanted to read waited).  I also attended a parent-teacher school meeting (now called a School Community Council, SCC, which functions similar to the old PTA).

Ok, but did it actually make me happier?  Well let’s put the disclaimer out there that there are MANY factors that got into a person’s mood in a day so while I tried to control the obvious ones I can’t control external factors.  Overall my answer would be a solid: yes it does make you more happy.  I would say my baseline happiness was a 3.5/5 when I started this and now it would be 4.2/5 or a 20% increase.

I have to admit, while I know I had less spending money (actually 50% less) for the last month I didn’t feel any worse about it.  I still get a little surge of joy when remember the note I got back from my son’s teacher saying how excited the kids were about me matching their donations for those two weeks.  Apparently my son was a little hero for his class because of it (which is really ironic, since that some what obvious outcome didn’t occur to me at the time).

The other odd outcome I found when doing this exercise was I actually got more items done off my procrastination list in the last month even when I had less time available.  I suspect that is because I felt better, so it was easier to get started on some of those items.  Also I recalled people tend to over estimate the amount of time it takes to do tasks you are avoiding, so what I thought would take four hours was done in two hours.  So even with less time per week, I got more done too.  Odd, I know.

Ok, so now with that done, will I keep it up?  Yes I think I will try to give a bit more money away on things I care about that are local.  I suspect if I had donated money to an international charity that I would not have the same degree of happiness.  I won’t see the same impact or result of the gift.  I won’t chain myself to a specific amount each month, but rather just do it when the mood strikes me.

As for time, I actually accepted the co-chair position on the SCC at my son’s school.  So I will be putting in time there for the next year helping out to organize activities for the kids and their parents.  Beyond that I will keep spending a bit more time with my kids, but I won’t track it.

So how do you give away your time or money?

4 thoughts on “Give It Away, It Will Make You Happy”

  1. I volunteer as a tutor and am in the process of becoming a foster parent. For some reason spending more time with kids gives me more energy.

  2. You’ve hit on something, something I changed years ago. We need to explicitly make a decision to prioritize time with family – over work, over yard chores, over everything.

    All that work stuff seems overwhelming. But it’s an interesting change in your life experience when you specifically decide that you will routinely drop everything else and spend a block of time with your kids or your spouse. But you have to make the decision and stick to it – it doesn’t happen automatically.

    It’s going to be nice outside today. I’ve got a garden shed to build, dandelions to pull, lawn to mow, garage to organize, and I’ve got work to do. And it’s weighting on me. Yet I’m going to put it all aside and take my son and his friends to a sporting event and then out for burgers. I’ve done this enough to know that I’ll be happier at the end of the day having done that than the sense of accomplishment I’d have from finishing off the yard work. The dandelions will still be there tomorrow.

  3. Oh, and accepting a position on the SCC? You’re crazy to do that :).

    In years past we’ve volunteered quite a bit at our local school and I’ve had a variety of people suggest I should be working with the PTA. No way, not a chance. I’d rather set up hot lunch programs and tutor kids in reading and math than sit in a two hour meeting with parents with an agenda.

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