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Maybe Money Can’t Buy Happiness, But Data Shows that Giving Can!

We hosted a webinar with Joel Treisman, a scholar-practitioner in the fields of positive psychology and the psychology of wealth, to examine the relationship between money and happiness, and what it means for families.

These were the three most compelling learnings for me:

#1 Be Intentional
There are plenty of things you can do to be happier – and most of them require us to be intentional with our time, actions and thoughts.

While many people see money as one of the proverbial keys to happiness, there are numerous quantitative and qualitative studies that show it’s not how much you have, but rather how you use what you have and your behavior that have the greatest effect on happiness. Other key elements of personal happiness and contentedness are:

  • Having a sense of control or self-efficacy
  • Avoiding social comparisons between yourself and others
  • Finding the intersection between your personal passion, mission, vocation and profession
  • Being grateful and savoring experiences before, during and after they occur
  • Balancing pleasurable sources of happiness with purpose-driven sources of happiness
  • Embracing ‘satisficing’ to get acceptable outcomes rather than constantly trying to maximize or optimize each decision
  • Investing in activities that promote health, vitality and freedom instead of material items to achieve longer boosts in wellbeing
  • Being generous to others with your time and money

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#2 Happiness Spreads
Giving to others generates an abundance of benefits for givers, receivers and witnesses.

Some research points to a virtuous cycle between giving and happiness – giving makes people happier and happier people give more – a positive feedback loop that helps foster more philanthropy and objectively has the potential to change the world.

Additionally, being generous to others creates an abundance of benefits beyond the gift itself. Givers regularly report increased feelings of satisfaction and competence, along with a greater sense of meaning. Furthermore, these feelings are contagious, helping to boost overall happiness within themselves and among others.

The same is true for those who volunteer. The physical acts of donating time and talents can help switch your focus, potentially taking your mind off troubles, while helping foster social connections between individuals and communities. In a poll with people who had volunteered in the previous 12 months, the large majority felt healthier (76%), had improved moods (94%) and reduced stress (78%).

And, finally, people who witness acts of kindness and largesse also report feeling emotions ranging from gratitude to warmth to optimism, showing that giving has the potential to truly transform the people it touches.

#3 Families Working Together
When practiced together, charitable giving can build and strengthen the family structure now and in the future.

Engaging family members in charitable activities deliver incremental benefits to those discussed previously while creating the conditions to clarify family values, improve family relationships and expand family resources.

According to 21/64, the rising generation cites parents and grandparents as having the strongest influence on how they think about philanthropy. Importantly, they also point to a ‘talk the talk and walk the walk’ combination of direct teachings from their parents and grandparents and observing their behavior that helps shape and reinforce their views. These two methods working in concert can help bolster the trust and communication that is needed to ensure a successful transfer of ideals between generations.

Ultimately, Treisman defines Positive Family Philanthropy as a powerful construct that includes the following elements:

  • Drives a shared sense of purpose and meaning at the family level
  • Creates opportunities to shift from a top-down decision-making process to one that is collaborative across generations
  • Appreciates and leverages individual and family strengths
  • Broadens and builds on the family’s positive resources
  • Includes both experiences and donations
  • Measures impact and benefits to the family and others (not solely the impact of the gifts themselves)
  • Allows for a combination of approach goals and avoidance goals to drive change

To learn more about these three takeaways – and many others – watch the replay.

Want to learn more about the benefits of giving as a family? Check out our ebook, The Foundation of a Philanthropic Family.

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Hannah Shaw Grove

Hannah Shaw Grove

Chief Marketing Officer