Buying Happiness: How Giving Gets You (Not Just Intangible) Things

August 29, 2016

It turns out giving money may buy you happiness and, on average, make you more money in the process.

Towards the end of his book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki puts forth the recommendation to give away 10% of your income. I thought it was interesting that through the entirety of the book prior to this recommendation, the author focused the readers on accumulating wealth, and here at the end of the book, they were saying give some away.

But that wasn't the only time I heard about how rich people felt that charitable giving helped them with their success. An economist, Arthur Brooks, heard the same thing, exemplified by a quote from John D. Rockefeller. “I believe the power to make money is a gift ... to be developed and used to the best of our ability for the good of mankind.”

Brooks decided to verify whether what the entrepreneur said about giving to get was true, and if so, to quantify it. After completing a large, well-controlled study, he did find that this was true. In fact, he found that for every $100 a race/religion/family size/geography/education-matched family gives compared to a control family, the giving family will earn an average $375 more in income. That is an astonishing return on investment! Baffled by this new discovery, he discussed his findings with a psychologist he knew. While the dollar value was news, the psychologist and his respective field knew this long before this economist proved it empirically.

It is well known in psychology that giving produces both short- and long-term benefits to well-being. In fact, there may be a positive feedback loop, where happiness increases one’s ability to give, and giving increases one’s happiness. So that saying "money can't buy happiness," isn't necessarily true. It turns out giving money may buy you happiness and, on average, make you more money in the process.


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