A student was taking a walk with his professor, talking about philosophy. As they went along, they saw lying in the path a pair of old shoes, which they supposed to belong to a poor man who was employed in a field close by, and who had nearly finished his day’s work.
The student turned to the professor, saying: “Let’s play a trick: we will hide his shoes, and conceal ourselves behind those bushes, and wait to see his reaction when he cannot find them.”
“My young friend,” answered the professor, “we should never amuse ourselves at the expense of the poor. You could give yourself much greater pleasure. Put a coin into each shoe, and then we’ll hide ourselves and watch how the discovery affects him.”
The student did so, and they both hid themselves behind the bushes close by. The poor man soon finished his work and came across the field to the path where he had left his coat and shoes. While putting on his coat he slipped his foot into one of his shoes; but feeling something hard, he stooped down to feel what it was, and found the coin. Astonishment and wonder were seen upon his countenance. He gazed upon the coin, turned it round, and looked at it again and again. He then looked around him on all sides, but no person was to be seen. He now put the money into his pocket, and proceeded to put on the other shoe; but his surprise was doubled on finding the other coin. His feelings overcame him; he fell upon his knees, looked up to heaven and uttered aloud a fervent thanksgiving, in which he spoke of his wife, sick and helpless, and his children without bread … The student stood there deeply affected, and his eyes filled with tears.
“Now,” said the professor, “are you not much better pleased than if you had played your intended trick?” The youth replied, “You have taught me a lesson which I will never forget. I feel now the truth of Jesus’ words, which I never understood before: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
This truth has been scientifically proven through extensive psychological experiments.
In his excellent TEDx talk at Cambridge, Michael Norton makes a compelling case that spending does, indeed, buy you happiness, as long as you spend it on others!
Michael introduces the idea of social spending and explains how this increases the donor’s well-being. “Spending on other people has a bigger return for you than spending on yourself.” It does not matter how you do this. “The specific way that you spend on other people isn’t nearly as important as the fact that you spend on other people,” says Norton.
Norton conducted experiments around the world to determine if money could buy happiness. His team approached random individuals, asked them how happy they were, and then handed them an envelope containing between $5 to $20. Half of the participants were asked to spend the cash on themselves and the other half to spend it on others.
A central theme emerged from their experiments from student campuses in Canada to poor people in Uganda: those who spent money on others reported increased happiness, while those who spent it on themselves experienced no additional joy.