Feeling Good for Free

Philosopher’s and the like continue to debate a particular question: can an act of selflessness ever be truly selfless? Don’t we do things because we get something from doing it? Don’t we always feel better for helping someone? So-called selfless motives might be complex but the fact remains we do tend to feel happier in ourselves when we focus attention outside of ourselves.

What’s the relationship between money and happiness? Plenty of studies have been undertaken on the issue of cash and the extent to which it makes us happy. The upshot of these studies is pretty consistent and this is we seem to experience greater happiness when we give the stuff away.

That’s right. There’s a limit to the happiness we can derive from spending money on our own selfish desires. But let’s get things into some perspective. Few of us are likely to simply give all our money away. It’s the way we spend our money that can also influence how we feel.

Professor Liz Dunn, author of How to Buy Happiness, outlines various techniques for getting a glow from spending. For example, she notes that people who spend their money on experiences tend to feel happier than if they’d spent it on some grand possession. Then there’s the issue of a little self-denial. You may have the money to buy your favorite drink every day, but if you don’t, you’ll appreciate it more when it comes your way. Buying time is another of Lizz Dunn’s suggestions.

If you have the money, why not buy yourself a break from the tasks you dislike most, like cleaning or ironing.

But even if you have the cash there are plenty of other things you can do that others will appreciate, that will make you feel good, and that cost nothing other than your willingness to try. Lori Deschene is the founder of the website Tiny Buddha. One of her articles addresses this very issue by suggesting 20 ideas. I’ve listed just four of these to give a flavor of Lori’s thinking:

  • Let someone tell a story without feeling the need to one-up them or tell your own.
  • Let someone vent, even if you can’t offer a solution, just be an ear – without considering how well they listened to you last week.
  • Say no when it would make you feel good to say yes, because sometimes being kind means pushing someone to step up and try harder.
  • Tell someone you know they meant well instead of using their mistake as an opportunity to manipulate their guilt.
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