You Can Buy Happiness!

November 30th, 2008

According to a study (Dunn, EW, et al. “Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness,” Science (March 21, 2008): Vol. 319, No. 5870, pp. 1687-88.) I read about in the Harvard Mental Health Letter (Sept. 2008), money can buy you happiness.  Specifically, spending money on others can make you happier than when you spend it on yourself.  In one study, the amount spent – whether as gifts or charitable donations – did not correlate with feeling happier.  Just the act of giving made a difference.

This is particularly good news for a culture that values material goods and getting ahead.  It’s also a good reminder during the holiday season that it truly is better to give than receive. 

But how does this relate to mental health?  Perhaps giving to others helps us get out of our own thoughts, worries and depression.  Realigning our focus is a tried-and-true hallmark of cognitive behavioral therapy.  When we attempt to stop immersing ourselves in our negative thoughts and emotions, we can change habits and compulsions.  The concept of giving back is also present in Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs.  So, there must be something to it!

Whatever the reason, those who struggle with stress, depression and anxiety can add this to their bag of tricks.  Experiment and see if it makes a difference for you.  It can also be helpful to those living with chronic and serious illnesses.  Any opportunity to take the focus off of yourself can be a gift.

And if you need extra help, call me at 202/460-6384 for a consultation.

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