You’re probably not going to believe me on this.

Happy Money coverI have a sort of weird, complicated relationship with money. Details on that I’ll save for another day; for now, here’s an opinion that’s neither weird nor complicated. I find the idea that you can buy happiness to be highly suspect, and perhaps you do, too. I think we’re not alone, which is why the assertion that “money can buy happiness–if you spend it right” makes a good teaser for the book, Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton.

I enjoyed the book, and found that several of the ideas made sense to me. The one I put before you now is the surprising idea that you can get more pleasure out of giving money away or spending it on another person than by spending it on yourself. As you don’t have the advantage that I do of looking at my dad’s copy of the book, with key ideas underlined, I’ll include several here, from chapter 5:

“New research shows that spending even small amounts of money on others can make a difference for our own happiness.” p. 107

“Rather than think about the different ways you can spend your money on yourself to maximize your own happiness, consider investing it in others.” p. 107

“In 120 out of 136 countries, people who donated to charity in the past month reported greater satisfaction with life. This relationship emerged in poor and rich countries alike, and held up even after controlling for individuals’ income. Across the 136 countries studied in the Gallup World Poll, donating to charity had a similar relationship to happiness as doubling household income.” p. 113

That seems remarkable to me–donating to a good cause can make people feel as happy as if their income had doubled.

Here’s one last quote: “knowing that we’re having an impact on someone else is another critical factor in transforming good deeds into good feelings.” p. 121

The points the authors make are based on research findings from various institutions. We can read about those experiments, and be duly impressed. We might also consider doing a little experiment of our own. Perhaps we’ve had the thought that we’d like to do some good in the world. Here’s an opportunity to put a little money out there, and see what comes of it.

You may already have a worthy cause in mind. I heard of one recently that I’ll put forward, and if it appeals to you, I know your help would make a big difference to them. My sister’s best friend, Jennifer Nielson, is a kind and giving person, and, as it happens, a chemistry professor. She has looked for a way to use her experience to give knowledge and training that can impact many people’s lives. She and a few others piloted a program to train teachers in Uganda, “to demonstrate how to incorporate simple experiments in their teaching to help students explore chemistry concepts and develop critical thinking and analytical skills.”

Why does this matter? In their words, “when students in developing nations acquire a solid understanding of chemistry principles it translates to success in science jobs and innovative solutions that help communities solve persistent social and economic problems.” (More details here.) The initial program was very successful, and they’ve been invited back. The only trouble is, not all the money is in place to pay for the next round.


Dr. Jennifer Nielson doing a demonstration.

They’ve got 7 days left to raise about $1500 (they must reach $3000 or they don’t get any funding at all*).

Maybe chemistry education doesn’t strike you as a very exciting cause. I don’t think I would list chemistry among my chief enthusiasms, but I have seen Jenn do a very fun chemistry experiment/entertainment to the delight of a lot of little cousins, and I know that she’s the perfect person to be doing this work. It strikes me as the sort of project that can have a wide-ranging impact for good, and I’m grateful for the efforts of all those involved.

The cousin-delighting experiment involves an film canister, some baking soda, vinegar, and a loud pop (I don’t have Jenn’s instructions, but this one looks pretty similar).

If you want to try out that other experiment I mentioned, the one where you see how you feel after giving a little money to make an impact for good, here’s that link again. Given funding, I feel confident that these people will get it done. Donating will certainly be a lot easier than trying to double your income, and I hear the “return on investment” is substantial.

teachers at one of Dr. Nielson's first workshops

teachers at one of Dr. Nielson’s first workshops

Do you have a good cause you want to champion? Tell us about it!

*I don’t know all the specifics, but I get the impression that the organization through which they’re gathering support will take pledges, and if pledges meet the goal, Jenn and her group get the money to do their project. If not, those who pledged will receive refunds.



5 thoughts on “You’re probably not going to believe me on this.

    • I know organic chemistry is one of those courses that causes groans in many people–the fact that you’re a scientist now makes me think you made it through alive 🙂

    • I’m just worried that once I’ve explained that weird complicated relationship you’ll get quiet and start to edge carefully away before turning and running from the crazy….

  1. Pingback: Share those safety goggles! | Lori Notes

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