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Chapter 7.2: The Wealth of Passion
religious faiths observed one of their high holidays: Easter for Christians, Passover for Jews, and, for
Muslims, Mawlid an-Nabi, the birthday of Muhammed. The timing was significant, as the conference
aimed to promote compassion and better understanding among all the great religions.
The Dalai Lama, draped in deep red and saffron robes, greeted me in the ballroom of the Mark
Hopkins Hotel with a warm embrace and a belly laugh. He radiated warmth and joy—like a walking,
breathing embodiment of the “art of happiness” he teaches. There were about 1,000 people attending
the conference, but I had the honor of sitting in an intimate meeting he hosted with about 25 of the
world’s top theologians and spiritual leaders: Hindus, Buddhists, Episcopalians, Native Americans,
Catholics, Jews, Sunnis, and Shiites—the list went on.
It was a fascinating experience because it started out as most of these conferences do, with
everybody being wonderful and kind and gracious. But then we got into the nitty-gritty of human lives
and age-old conflicts—and ideology and dogma started boiling up from beneath the surface. The
conversation got a little heated, with everybody talking at once and nobody really listening.
Finally, the Dalai Lama raised his hand like a little boy in class. He wasn’t upset at all, but he just
kept waving his hand with a serene, amused smile on his face. Gradually, people saw him, and you
could tell they were a little embarrassed for arguing and ignoring their host. When they finally became
quiet, he dropped his arm.
“Ladies and gentlemen, one thing we can all agree upon in this room,” the Dalai Lama said. “The
great faiths of the world are represented here, and many of us are considered to be leaders of those
faiths. We all have great pride in our individual traditions. But I think we don’t want to lose sight of
what the purpose of our religions is, and what the people we represent really want.” He paused for
effect and said, “What they all want is to be happy!” What’s the common denominator, he asked,
between the goat herder in Afghanistan and the financial trader in New York City; the tribal chief in
Africa and the mother of ten in Argentina; the fashion designer in Paris and the weaver in Peru?
“They all want to be happy.”
“That’s the essence of everything,” His Holiness said. “If what we do creates more unhappiness,
then we’ve truly failed.”
But what is it that creates happiness?
I’ve always taught that success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.
It’s important to remember what you’re really, truly after: that sense of joy, freedom, security, or
love—whatever you want to call it. Each one of us finds a pathway we believe will lead to
happiness, fulfillment, or meaning. And there are so many paths. Some look for happiness through
religion, or nature, or relationships. Others think a great body, money, prominent degrees, children, or
business accomplishments will make them happy. But true wealth, as you and I know deep in our
souls, cannot be measured only by the size of your bank account or the number of assets you have
acquired or grown.
So what’s the final secret, the key to a rich life? Enjoy it and share it! But first you must take action.
As the saying goes, if what you learn leads to knowledge, you become a fool; but if what you learn
leads to action, you can become wealthy. Remember: rewards come in action, not in discussion.
So before you put down this book, go over the final checklist and make sure you’ve nailed those 7
Simple Steps and are on your way to building the life you desire and deserve.
Then take a breath and remember what it’s all about.
Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.
—HENRY DAVID THOREAU
We all know there are many kinds of wealth: emotional wealth; relationship wealth; intellectual
wealth; physical wealth, in the form of energy, strength, and vitality; and, of course, spiritual wealth:
the sense that our life has a deeper meaning, a higher calling beyond ourselves. One of the biggest
mistakes we human beings make is when we focus on mastering one form of wealth at the expense of
all the rest.
This book has never really been just about money. What it’s really about is creating an
extraordinary quality of life—life on your terms. Until now we’ve zeroed in on how to master the
game of money and financial independence because money can have a significant effect on everything
from our psychology, to our health, to our intimate relationships. But it’s important to remember that
it’s impossible to live an extraordinary life if you don’t also master the game of relationships, the
game of fulfillment, and the game of health.
Being the richest man in the graveyard is not the goal.
I will never forget taking my children to see Cirque du Soleil when the troupe came to our
hometown in Del Mar, California, almost three decades ago. We were fortunate enough to get VIP
tickets with floor seats right next to the stage. You could almost reach out and touch the performers.
Just before the show began, I noticed three prime seats were still open beside us, and I thought,
“Wow, someone is going to miss out on an amazing show.” But a minute or two later, a giant man,
walking with the help of a cane and two assistants, came down the stairs. He must have weighed at
least 400 pounds. When he sat down, he took up the three empty seats and was wheezing and sweating
from the short walk to the front row. I felt so bad for this man—and for my daughter, who was being
crushed by his body spilling over that third seat and onto her! I overheard a person behind me
whispering that he was the richest man in Canada. It turns out he was one of the richest men in Canada
—financially. A billionaire, no less! Yet in that moment, I couldn’t help thinking about the pain he
must live in—all because he put so much of his focus into money while neglecting his health and the
physical wealth of his body. He was literally killing himself! And by failing to master more than one
aspect of his life, he couldn’t enjoy what he had—not even a simple, magical evening at the theater.
We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our
What’s the point of massive achievement if your life has no balance? And what’s the point of winning
the game if you never take the time to celebrate and appreciate the life you have? There’s nothing
worse than a rich person who’s chronically angry or unhappy. There’s really no excuse for it, yet I
see this phenomenon so often. It’s the result of an extremely unbalanced life—one with too much
expectation and not enough appreciation for what’s already here. Without gratitude and appreciation
for what we already have, we’ll never know true fulfillment. As Sir John Templeton said, “If you’ve
got a billion dollars and you’re ungrateful, you’re a poor man. If you have very little but you’re
grateful for what you have, you’re truly rich.”
How do you cultivate gratitude? Start by looking at the force that controls your mind and emotions.
Our decisions ultimately control the quality of our lives. In all the years I’ve worked with
people, I’ve found that there are three key decisions that we make every moment of our lives. If
we make these decisions unconsciously, we end up with lives like the majority of people, who tend to
be out of shape physically, exhausted emotionally, and often bored with or too comfortable in their
intimate relationships—not to mention financially stressed.
But if you make these decisions consciously, you literally can change your life in an instant!
What are the three decisions that determine the quality of your life? That determine whether you feel
rich or poor in any given moment? The first one is:
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO FOCUS ON?
In every moment of our lives, there are millions of things we can focus on. We can focus on the things
that are happening right here, right now, or on what we want to create in the future, or we can put our
focus back on the past. We can direct our focus to solving a big challenge or to appreciating the
beauty of this moment, or to feeling sorry for ourselves about some disappointing experience. If we
don’t direct our focus consciously, the environment we’re in tends to make constant demands to get
There are hundreds of billions of dollars spent on advertising, trying to get this precious
commodity of yours. The news tries to get your focus by telling you the scariest story: “Your child
could die from drinking fruit juice! Film at eleven!” or some other ridiculous claim. Why? Because as
they say in the media, “If it bleeds, it leads.” If that’s not enough, we live in a social media world
where the buzz in your pocket is constantly calling to you. But here is the key: where focus goes,
energy flows. What you focus on, and your pattern of focus, shape your whole life.
Let’s look at two of these patterns that control and can immediately shift your level of joy,
happiness, frustration, anger, stress, or fulfillment.
The first question is: Which do you tend to focus on more—what you have or what’s missing
from your life? I’m sure you think about both sides of this coin, but if you had to look at your habitual
thoughts, where do you tend to spend most of your time?
Even those of us who are in the most difficult situations have plenty in our lives that we can
appreciate. If you’re struggling financially, might it be worthwhile to remember that if you make
an income of just $34,000 a year, you are actually in the top 1% of all wage earners in the
world? Yes, the average annual income on the planet is only $1,480 a month. In fact, almost half
the world, or more than 3 billion people, live on less than $2.50 per day, which is a little more
than $900 per year. The average drink at Starbucks is $3.25. If you can afford that, you’re
spending more with one purchase of a cup of coffee than what half the planet has to live on for
That puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? So if you want to occupy Wall Street because you resent
the so-called 1%, you might stop to consider that 99% of the rest of the world might want to occupy
your “terrible” life!
But in all seriousness, rather than focusing on what we don’t have and begrudging those who are
better off financially, perhaps we should acknowledge that there’s so much to be grateful for in our
lives that has nothing to do with money. We can be grateful for our health, our friends, our
opportunities, our minds, and the fact that we get to drive on roads that we didn’t have to build,
read books we didn’t have to take years to write, and tap into the internet that we didn’t have
Where do you tend to put your focus? On what you have or on what’s missing?
A pattern of appreciating what you have will create a new level of emotional well-being and
wealth. And my guess is that if you’re reading this book, you may be one of those people who already
notices what you have. But the real question is, do you take time to deeply feel grateful in your mind,
body, heart, and soul? That’s where the joy and the gifts will be found. Not with just intellectual
appreciation or by the acquisition of another dollar, or another $10 million.
Now let’s consider a second pattern of focus that impacts the quality of your life: Do you tend to
focus more on what you can control or what you can’t control? I know the answer will be
contextual, as it could change from moment to moment, but I’m asking you overall: What do you tend
to do more often? Be honest.
If you focus on what you can’t control, there’s no question you’re going to have more stress in your
life. You can influence many aspects of your life, but you can’t control the markets, the health of those
you care about, or the attitudes of your children—as anyone who has lived with a two-year-old or a
Yes, we can influence many things, but we can’t control them. The more we feel out of control, the
more frustrated we become. In fact, self-esteem can be measured by how much we feel we control
the events in our life versus feeling that life’s events are controlling us.
Now, as soon as you begin to focus on something, your brain has to make a second decision, which
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
What does this mean? Ultimately, how we feel about our lives has nothing to do with the events of
our lives, or with our financial condition, or what has or has not happened to us. The quality of our
lives is controlled by the meanings we give these things. Most of the time we’re unaware of the
impact of these quick meaning decisions that are often made in our unconscious mind.
When something happens that disrupts your life—a car accident, a health issue, a lost job—do you
tend to think it’s the end or the beginning? If someone confronts you, is he or she “insulting” you,
“coaching” you, or truly “caring” for you? Does this “devastating” problem mean that God is
punishing you, or challenging you, or is it possible this problem is a gift from God? Your life
becomes whatever meaning you give it. Because with each meaning comes a unique feeling or
emotion, and the quality of our lives is where we live emotionally.
Meanings don’t just affect the way we feel; they affect all of our relationships and interactions.
Some people think the first ten years of a relationship is just the beginning; that they’re just now
getting to know each other, and it’s really exciting. It’s an opportunity to go deeper. Other people
could be ten days into a relationship, and the first time they have an argument, they think it’s the end.
Now tell me, if you think this is the beginning of a relationship, are you going to behave the same
way as if it were the end? That one slight shift in perception, in meaning, can change your whole life
in a moment. In the beginning of a relationship, if you’re totally in love and attracted, what will you
do for the other person? The answer is: anything! If he or she asks you to take out the trash, you might
leap to your feet and say, “Anything that lights you up, sweetheart!” But after seven days, seven years,
or seventy years, people say things like, “What the hell do you think I am, your janitor?!” And they
wonder what happened to the passion in their life. I’ve often shared with couples having trouble in
their relationships that if you do what you did in the beginning of the relationship, there won’t be an
end! Because in the beginning of the relationship you were a giver, not an accountant. You weren’t
weighing constantly the meaning of who was giving more. Your entire focus was just lighting up that
person, and his or her happiness made you feel like your life was filled with joy.
Let’s look at how these first two decisions, focus and meaning, often combine to create one of
modern society’s biggest afflictions: depression. I’m sure you must wonder how it’s possible that so
many people who are “rich” and famous—with every resource you could ever desire—could ever be
depressed. How is it that so many of those who were beloved by millions of people, and have tens of
millions of dollars or more, have even taken their own lives? We’ve seen it over and over again with
extraordinarily intelligent individuals, from businessmen to entertainers to comedians. How is this
possible, especially with all of the modern treatments and medications available today?
In my seminars, I always ask, “How many of you know someone who is on antidepressants and
is still depressed?” Everywhere around the world, in rooms of 5,000 to 10,000 people, I’ll see
about 85% to 90% of the room raise their hands. How is that possible? After all, you’re giving
them a drug that should make them better.
Well, these antidepressants do come with labels warning that suicidal thoughts are a possible side
effect. But perhaps the real challenge is, no matter how much you drug yourself, if you focus
constantly on what you can’t control in your life and what’s missing, it’s not hard to find yourself in
despair. If you add to that a meaning like “life is not worth living,” you have an emotional cocktail
that no antidepressant will be able to overcome consistently.
But I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that if that same person can come up with a new
meaning—a reason to live or a belief that all of this was meant to be—then he will be stronger than
anything that has ever happened to him. If she can focus consistently on who needs her, wants her,
loves her, what she still wants to give to this world, then anyone can be shifted. How do I know?
Because in 38 years of working with people, I’ve never lost one to suicide out of the thousands I’ve
dealt with. And knock on wood—there are no guarantees—hopefully I never will. But when you can
get people to shift their habitual focus and meanings, there’s no longer a limit on what a person’s life
A change of focus and a change in meaning can literally change your biochemistry in a matter
of minutes. Learning to master this becomes an emotional game changer. How else can you
explain the power and beauty of people like the great therapist and thinker Victor Frankl and so many
others who made it through the horrors of Auschwitz? They found meaning even in their extreme
suffering. It was a higher meaning, a deeper meaning that kept them going—not only to survive but
also to save the lives of so many others in the future by saying, “This will never happen again.” We
can all find meaning, even in our pain. And when we do, we may still experience pain, but the
suffering is gone.
So take control, and always remember: meaning equals emotion, and emotion equals life.
Choose consciously and wisely. Find the empowering meaning in anything, and wealth in its deepest
sense will be yours today.
WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?
Once we create a meaning in our minds, it creates an emotion, and that emotion leads to a state in
which we make our third decision: What am I going to do? The actions we take are powerfully
shaped by the emotional states we’re in. If we’re angry, we’re going to behave quite differently than
if we’re feeling playful or outrageous.
If you want to shape your actions, the fastest way is to change what you focus on and change the
meanings to something more empowering. But even two people who get in an angry state will behave
differently. Some will pull back when they’re angry; others push through. Some people express anger
quietly or loudly or violently. Some suppress it only to look for a passive-aggressive opportunity to
regain the upper hand, or even exact revenge. Some people confront their anger by going to the gym
and working out.
Where do these patterns come from? We tend to model our behavior on the people in our lives
whom we respect, enjoy, and love. The people who frustrated or angered us? We often reject their
approaches, but far too often find ourselves falling back into the pattern that we witnessed over and
over again and were so displeased by in our youth.
It’s very useful to become aware of what your patterns are when you get frustrated or angry or sad
or feel lonely—because you can’t change your pattern if you’re not aware of it. In addition, now that
you’re aware of the power of these three decisions, you might start looking for role models who are
experiencing what you want out of life. I promise you, those who have passionate relationships have a
totally different focus and come up with totally different meanings for challenges in the relationship
than people who are constantly bickering or fighting. Or those who judge each other constantly. It’s
not rocket science. If you become aware of the differences in how people make these three decisions,
you’ll have a pathway that can help you create a permanent positive change in any area of your life.
At the age of 18, I made up my mind to never have another bad day in my life. I dove into an
endless sea of gratitude from which I’ve never emerged.
—DR. PATCH ADAMS
How can you use these three decisions to enhance the quality of your life? It turns out that what we
focus on, what emotional states we tend to live in, and what we do can all be conditioned, or
“primed,” into our lives with a simple routine. After all, you don’t want to merely hope that positive
emotions just show up; you want to condition yourself to live in them. It’s like an athlete developing a
muscle. You must train yourself if you want to have an extraordinary quality of fulfillment, enjoyment,
happiness, and achievement in your personal, professional, and intimate lives. You must train
yourself to focus, feel, and find the most empowering meanings.
This practice is rooted in a concept in psychology called priming, in which words, ideas, and
sensory experiences color our perceptions of the world and affect our emotions, motivations, and
What if you were to discover that many of the thoughts that you think are your thoughts are simply
conditioned by environmental triggers, or in some cases manipulated consciously by others who
understand the power of priming? Let me give you an example.
Two psychologists conducted a study26 in which a stranger handed the subjects either a mug of hot
coffee or a cup of iced coffee. The subjects were asked to read about a hypothetical character and
asked to describe the character’s true nature. The results were astonishing! Those who were given the
hot coffee described the character as “warm” and “generous,” while the iced-coffee holders
described him as “cold” and “selfish.”
In another study at the University of Washington, women of Asian descent were given a
mathematics test. Before the test, they took a brief questionnaire. If they were asked to list their
ethnicity, the women scored 20% higher on the math test. But for those who were asked to fill in
gender instead of ethnicity, the simple act of writing that they were female produced significantly
lower scores. That’s the power of priming in the form of cultural conditioning. It affects our
unconscious patterns—shrinking or unleashing our true potential.
We can make use of this phenomenon by developing a simple ten-minute daily practice to prime
our minds and hearts for gratitude—the emotion that eliminates anger and fear. Remember, if you’re
grateful, you can’t be angry simultaneously. You can’t be fearful and grateful simultaneously. It’s
I begin every day with a minimum of ten minutes. I stop, close my eyes, and for approximately three
minutes reflect on what I’m grateful for: the wind on my face, the love in my life, the opportunities
and the blessings I experience. I don’t focus just on big things; I make a point not only to notice, but
also to deeply feel an appreciation for the little things that make life rich. For the next three minutes, I
ask for health and blessings for all those I love, know, and have the privilege to touch: my family,
friends, clients, and the stranger I may meet today. Sending love, blessings, gratitude, and wishes for
abundance to all people. As corny as it sounds, it’s the real circle of life.
I spend the remaining time on what I call my “Three to Thrive”: three things that I want to
accomplish. I envision them as if they were already achieved and feel a sense of celebration and
gratitude for them. Priming is an important gift to yourself—if you did it for ten days, you’d be
hooked. (Here’s a link to get you started: www.tonyrobbins.com.)
This simple practice is important because a lot of people say they’re grateful, but they don’t take
time to be grateful. It’s so easy in life to lose track of the beauty and grace of what we already have!
If we don’t consciously do something each day to plant the right seeds in our mind, then the “weeds of
life”—frustration, anger, stress, loneliness—tend to creep in. You don’t have to plant weeds; they
grow automatically. My teacher Jim Rohn taught me a simple principle: every day, stand guard at the
door of your mind, and you alone decide what thoughts and beliefs you let into your life. For they will
shape whether you feel rich or poor, cursed or blessed.
In the end, if we’re going to truly be happy, we have to get outside of ourselves.
The human mind is an amazing thing. It’s a survival mechanism, so it tends to look for what’s
wrong, what to avoid, what to look out for. You may have evolved, but your brain is still a 2million-year-old structure, and if you want to be fulfilled and happy, that’s not its first priority.
You have to take control of it. And the fastest way to do that—besides priming—is to step into the
highest of the 6 Human Needs, the two spiritual needs that fulfill human beings: Growth and
The core reason that I believe we all have a desire to grow is because when we do, we have
something to give. That’s where life has its deepest meaning. “Getting” might make you feel good for
a moment, but nothing beats the nirvana of having something to give that you know deeply touches
someone or something beyond yourself.
Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.
—DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
If it’s really true that giving is what makes us feel fully alive, then perhaps the ultimate test of this
theory is what life is like for those willing to give their lives for something they believe in. One of my
greatest heroes of the last century was civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Recently his eldest
son and namesake, Martin Luther King III, was in Fiji for my Date with Destiny event. I had the
opportunity of sharing with him how much his dad inspired me because he lived his life on pure
passion—he knew what he was made for. Even as a child, I remember hearing his words: “A man
who has not found something he will die for is not fit to live.”
Real wealth is unleashed in your life the moment you find something you care so deeply for you
will give it your all—even your life, if necessary. This is the moment in which you will have truly
escaped the tyranny of your own mind, your own fears, your own sense of limitation. A big order, I
know. But I also know that most of us would give our lives for our children, our parents, or our
spouses. Those who have found a mission that possesses them have discovered a wealth of energy
and meaning that has no match.
THE WEALTH OF PASSION
You’ve probably heard of the Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai. She was shot in the head by
Taliban terrorists because she had the audacity to insist that girls have the right to go to school. A
bullet pierced her eye socket and bounced around her skull, nearly killing her. Miraculously it missed
her brain. Malala survived her horrific injuries and has become an international activist for the
empowerment of girls and women. The man who shot her remains free, and the Taliban still threatens
to kill her. But she openly defies them. In a speech before the United Nations on her 16th birthday,
Malala said she has no fear. “They thought that the bullet would silence us, but they failed. And out of
this silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change my aim and stop
my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life, except this: weakness, fear, and hopelessness died.
Strength, fervor, and courage was born.”
In an interview with Malala, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour asked the young woman if she feared for
her life. Malala replied, “The thing is, they can kill me. They can only kill Malala. But it does not
mean that they can kill my cause as well; my cause of education, my cause of peace, and my cause of
human rights. My cause of equality will still be surviving . . . They only can shoot a body, but they
cannot shoot my dreams.”
This 16-year-old young woman has mastered those three decisions. She’s focused on what matters.
She’s found a mission beyond herself that gives her life meaning. And her actions are fearless.
While we might not be called to put our lives on the line like Malala, we can all choose to live
fearlessly, passionately, and with boundless gratitude. So let’s turn the page and finish our wealthbuilding journey together with the most important lesson of all: the final secret.
25. If you’d like, you can go online to www.tonyrobbins.com and see some of these interventions. We’ve even followed people three and
five years later to show that the changes lasted. It will give you an idea of how you can master the meaning in your own life.
26. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, and coauthored by John A. Bargh (Yale) and Lawrence Williams
(University of Colorado).
THE FINAL SECRET
We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.
As we take these final steps of our journey together, I want to invite you to think about what you are
most passionate about in this world. What do you care for most deeply? What excites you?
What legacy would light you up? What could you do today that would make you proud? What
action could you take that would be a signal to your own spirit that your life is being lived well? And
if you were truly inspired, what would you like to create or give?
All these questions bring us closer to the final secret of true wealth. But—and here’s the deal—
part of the key may seem counterintuitive. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how to master
money, save, invest, and build a critical mass that can ultimately create freedom and increase the
quality of your life. But at the same time, we’ve all been taught that money cannot buy happiness.
As one study attests, most people believe that if their income doubled, their happiness would also
double. But the study’s findings proved that, in reality, people who went from earning $25,000 per
year to $55,000 per year reported only a 9% increase in happiness. Additionally, one of the most
widely quoted studies on the subject tells us that once you make a solid middle-class salary—about
$75,000 per year in America—earning more money doesn’t make any measureable difference in a
person’s level of happiness.
“So, what’s the point?” you might ask.
The truth is: more recent studies have proven that money can make us happier. Scientists have
shown that “spending as little as five dollars a day can significantly change your happiness.” How
so? Well, it’s not the amount of money you spend, but how you decide to spend it that matters.
“Every day spending choices unleash a cascade of biological and emotional effects that are
detectable right down to saliva,” reports Harvard’s Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton in their
brilliant 2013 book, Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. “While having more money
can provide all kinds of wonderful things—from tastier food to safer neighborhoods—its real power
comes not in the amount but how we spend it.”
They have scientifically proven that there are many different ways you can spend your money that
will actually increase your happiness significantly. I won’t reveal them all here and will leave it to
you to pick up their book, but three of the most important are:
1. Investing in experiences—such as travel, learning a new skill, or taking some courses, rather than
acquiring more possessions.
2. Buying time for yourself—“Whenever we can outsource our most dreaded tasks (from scrubbing
toilets to cleaning gutters), money can transform the way we spend our time, freeing us to pursue
But can you guess the greatest thing you can do with your money that will bring you massively
3. Investing in others—That’s right. Giving our money away actually makes us really happy!
Research shows that the more you give to others, the happier you are. And the more you have, the
more you are able to give. It’s a virtuous cycle. Dunn and Norton demonstrate through their own
scientific studies that people get more satisfaction spending money on others than they do
spending it on themselves. And the benefits “extend to not only subjective well-being, but also
In other words, giving makes you both happier and healthier.
According to the authors, this phenomenon spans continents and cultures, rich countries and poor,
people in the highest and lowest income groups, young and old, “from a Canadian college student
purchasing a scarf for her mother, to a Ugandan woman buying lifesaving malaria medication for a
friend.” Again, the data shows that the size of the gift doesn’t really matter.
In one of their studies, the authors handed participants either $5 or $20 to spend by the end of the
day. Half were told to buy something for themselves; the others were instructed to use the money to
help somebody else. “That evening, people who had been assigned to spend the money on someone
else reported [significantly] happier moods over the course of the day than did those people assigned
to spend the money on themselves,” they wrote.
The authors’ colleague, psychologist Lara Aknin of Simon Fraser University, conducted another
study in which she handed out $10 Starbucks gift cards to her subjects.
• Some were instructed to go into Starbucks alone and use the gift card on themselves.
• Some were told to use the gift card to take another person out for coffee.
• Some were told to give the gift card away to someone else, but they weren’t allowed to go to
Starbucks with that person.
• Some were told to take another person with them to Starbucks but to use the card only for
themselves, not the person with them.
At the end of the day, which subjects do you think reported being happiest? You’re right if you
picked the ones who were there in Starbucks when they treated someone else to a cup of coffee.
According to the authors, people are happiest when they connect with those they help, and “see how
their generous actions have made a difference.”
The happiness we feel from helping others is not only more intense, but it lasts longer too.
When I brought up the topic of money and happiness in my interview with renowned behavioral
economics expert Dan Ariely, he told me, “If you ask people, ‘What would make you happy: buying
something for yourself, or buying something for somebody else?’ they say, ‘Oh, something for
myself.’ But that’s not true. Research shows that when people buy something for themselves, they get
happy for a few minutes or usually a few hours. But if they buy even a small gift for somebody else,
the giver’s happiness lasts a minimum to the end of the day, but often the happiness can carry over for
days or even weeks on end.”
Dan also told me about a “beautiful experiment” in which employees of a certain company
were given bonuses in the $3,000 range. Some people got the bonuses to spend on themselves.
And some were instructed to give the money away. Guess who was happier?