Harvard Professor Michael Norton, author of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, reports that it is entirely possible to buy happiness. All you have to do is spend your money – on other people!

December is the season of giving. For most Americans, it’s also the season for charitable giving and many charities take full advantage by asking for donations.  Americans are generous people. About 60% of us regularly support charities.

There are parts of the world where the cost of a cappuccino at a coffee shop, can provide clean water eliminating most of the illnesses that threaten someone’s health. The cost of two movie tickets is enough to provide the tools to make a living that lifts an entire family out of poverty.  The cost of dinner at a restaurant will start chicken and goat farms throughout the world, providing food and an income to a family. That’s an incredible amount of power to bring about real change in someone’s life.

Giving benefits both the receiver and giver. It’s one of the most effective ways to create deep, genuine happiness in your life. While writing a check feels great, giving your time feels even better. A few hours a month is enough to generate positive feelings for weeks afterwards. Giving talents and abilities that only you can give, further increases the pure joy of giving. It will also be the best gift you ever gave yourself.

Here’s the Challenge:

This holiday season, in addition to writing those checks, sign up for a little volunteer time. There are so many worthy organizations that need committed, reliable volunteers. Many people sign up for soup kitchens on the holidays, but volunteers are needed year round.

Give yourself away by spending some time coaching or tutoring children. Volunteer to drive the elderly for special errands or outings. Deliver Meals on Wheels a few days every month. Schools often need volunteer readers to help children who are struggling to learn.

If your time is really tight, sign up for the bone marrow registry or give blood once a month. It costs nothing but you could be saving a life.

Check out www.volunteermatch.org to find opportunities in your area that fit your interests, talents and availability.

Why this Practice Works

Giving is pure joy. Researchers report that feelings of happiness last longer and are felt more deeply when we give ourselves away.  The happiness lasts much longer than a pleasant experience such as a night out, a weekend trip or the pleasure of a new purchase.

Direct contact with the beneficiary of your giving is an opportunity to see how your actions impacted someone by putting a face to that person.  Writing a check is satisfying, but you miss the smiles and the tears that come with knowing someone cared. That personal connection reassures another person who is struggling that they aren’t alone. It also demonstrates to the giver that their contribution, however small, really matters.

Who Are the Richest Givers?

Poor and middle class families give more than twice as much on average as wealthy families (calculated as a percentage of income). People at the lower end of income levels also volunteer more of their time. The poor continue to give during difficult economic periods, while the wealthy slow their giving to match the growth of the economy.

Researchers tell us that the more religious a person is the more likely s/he is to give. Since the poor tend to practice their religion more than people at the upper end of the income levels, some researchers explain the giving disparity as being a matter of religion.

Or, perhaps regular folks know something about the joy of giving.  The greatest happiness comes when you give yourself away and trust that your generosity will make your life richer in ways that don’t involve money. Take the volunteer challenge this month and discover the joy of giving for yourself.

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