A couple of months our local community Foundation, The Pittsburgh Foundation, sponsored a “Pittburgh Gives”. This one day event encouraged individuals to contribute to their favorite non-profit organizations which would then be matched at 20% by the Foundation. During that 24 hour period over 7400 individuals donated over $2.8 million which was distributed to over 400 organizations from the arts to education to health and family services. The Event was rightfully called a great success!
A couple of days later I wrote a brief letter to the editor of our local paper thanking the various foundations that were involved in this special day of giving and acknowledging that as a result of making my small contribution, I experienced a day full of contentment (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10296/1097382-110.stm).
It was perhaps not too surprising then when I came upon an interview about research work done by Michael Norton a Harvard business school professor and some colleagues from the University of British Columbia. Their studies show that (at least) one path to happiness is not about spending money but by giving it away.
They found that in measuring happiness, if an individuals income doubled, their happiness measure only increased by 7%. But to further test their ideas, they hit the streets and gave random people a small sum of money ($5-$20). They asked half the group to spend it on themselves and the other half to spend it on others. When they got back to people at the end of the day, guess what…the people who spent their money on others reported a higher level of happiness than those who spent the money on themselves. The researchers clearly state that having money definitely makes our lives easier but the sheer possession of material goods may not be as satisfying as helping others.
And these researchers are not the only ones finding this out. Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison, Diane Von Furstenberg and many other very wealthy people have all signed onto “The Giving Pledge” (http://givingpledge.org/) in which they intend to donate significant sums of their vast fortunes to help worthy projects around the world.
While it would be nice to have vast fortunes to give away (while squirreling away a little bit for a yacht or two) it seems like one small step we can all take to increase our own happiness is not to just give money away but to find ways to help others. This plays out in the workplace just as well as anywhere else. By lending a hand to a colleague, supporting a workplace project or providing leadership that helps your team accomplish their goals, we may all find out that we get more done and and feel a bit better about ourselves and the world.