Money can’t buy happiness! Maybe it can?

Evidence suggests that prosocial spending — defined as spending money on other people, rather than on yourself (giving to charity is an example) — can boost our emotional well-being and provide many other health benefits.

Research published in March 2008 in the journal Science showed that spending money on charities was linked with increased levels of happiness, while money spent on personal expenses or new stuff had no effect on a person’s happiness levels.

Research is finding that prosocial spending is linked to boosted mood, and life satisfaction in diverse samples of people (a review article published in 2020 in the journal Advances in Experimental Social Psychology outlines the evidence).

In the 2019 World Happiness Report, which collected charitable giving and well-being data from around the world, found that even after controlling for wealth and other measures of prosperity, donating money is one of the six strongest predictors of life satisfaction — none of which are directly linked to income.

Apart from the happiness bump, there’s evidence that people who spend money on others reap physical health benefits, too.

Research published in 2016 in the journal Health Psychology found that three weeks of charitable spending was enough to lower blood pressure scores among a group of older adults. In fact, the research found that the blood pressure improvements caused by prosocial spending were similar to those associated with taking up a new exercise routine.

Other research, published in January 2021 in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, found that prosocial behaviors may reduce stress and inflammation, both of which can cause or worsen a range of mental and physical health conditions. More work has found that prosocial behaviors are linked with shifts in the expression of our genes, in ways that can improve overall health, according to a paper published in 2017 in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Personally, my favourite places to donate are Sikhnet & Basics of Sikhi. I have seen firsthand the transformative effect a spiritual education can have on someone's life and I do not think my children's faith and connection in Sikhi would be as strong without services like the Sikhnet stories app. I will be donating to Sikhnet this month and I hope you will join me. Together we can contribute to ensuring spiritual education for our future generations.

It’s worth noting that the benefit you get isn’t linked to the amount you give, or to whether you’re wealthy or in need of some financial help yourself. In fact, giving money away to others may in some cases matter more than how much you make. According to a research article published in 2013 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, donating money to charity increased people’s levels of well-being to about the same extent even when people’s incomes doubled.

Notes on giving

1. Give to causes that you’ve chosen yourself

2. Give to a cause where you can see the direct impact of your donation.

3. Give to a cause that a close friend is involved with. Your gift not only benefits that cause but is also meaningful to that friend.

One of the best parts of being human is that we have evolved to find joy in helping others.

Check out Dr. Harbir's new podcast where he interviews Sikhs of interest:

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