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Your Financial Life
By Catherine Businelle / Sep 29, 2016

Buying Happiness with Money—by Giving It Away

22995_tlpbcbgm0916_givingmoney_1024x438_v1 “Try giving it away” might not be the traditional advice you would receive about money from a financial expert. But research shows that you’ll be glad if you do, at least in moderation.

Elizabeth Dunn, co-author of the book Happy Money performed an experiment in countries as diverse as Canada and Uganda. She gave some participants money to spend and others money to give. Those who gave, regardless of income, later reported higher levels of happiness.

This is great news if you want to help but don’t think you’re able to accomplish much with what you have. Instead of waiting to be able to experience the joy of helping others until you have enough to make a difference, find charities that do a lot with what you give or allow you to donate time.

Help a Lot Even by Giving a Little

Negative stories about charities that spend more on infrastructure or salaries than on doing good in the world can discourage would-be donors about what donations can do. Several websites make it easier to check on a charity’s reputation and know exactly how an organization spends its money, so a donor can learn the most effective ways to give. Check out Charity Watch, GuideStar, and GiveWell to get started.

Another way to know you’re making a big impact is on-the-spot giving. Ahead in the supermarket line of a frazzled mom wrangling toddlers past rows of candy at eye-level? Slip the cashier an extra $20 and maybe even a note that shopping with kids is rough. You’ll make her whole day.

Give Time if You Can’t Give Much Money

If you’re low on funds or want to make a greater impact with your marketable skills than you could with money alone, volunteering in your community is another great way to experience the satisfaction of giving to others. Find local opportunities matching your skills and interests through websites like VolunteerMatch, Create the Good, and Idealist.

Amy Yotopoulis, director of the Mind Division at the Stanford Center on Longevity, said researchers are looking at how volunteering may play a role in healthy, happy aging. It’s a great way to feel good about giving back but also helps form relationships that she suspects may improve health and cognition.

However you choose to give, enjoy knowing that helping others is one of the few ways it really may be possible for money to buy happiness.

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