Can you buy happiness?

It was one of those strange news items that appeared as the final story on a lot of broadcasts a few weeks ago.  Dr. Michael Norton, a business professor at Harvard, did the research and was able to prove that money does, indeed, buy happiness.  To be honest, my first thought was that money also buys some pretty crazy research out of Cambridge (our fair city) Massachusetts, but that’s for another day.

Dr. Norton gave a bunch of people money.  He told half of them to spend it on themselves, and the other half he told to spend on someone else.  His team then called each member of the group that night, and asked them how they felt.  The subjects who had to give the money away reported being in a better mood and happier than the subjects who had to spend it on themselves.  Even when they manipulated how much money was involved, the amount was still less important than how they spent it.

He discusses his research more fully in this video.  It’s worth 11 minutes to watch.

I wasn’t all that surprised to read this report.  I immediately went to the example of the empty nesters take the kids and grandkids on vacation and are happy to have their entire brood together.  I had also heard of a time before we taught our kids to be scared of death of strangers when older folks would give a child a coin just to watch their smiles light up.

This research has two implications for us in the church.

The first is how we communicate to our members about their giving.  How many of the people in your pews seek happiness at the luxury car dealer, the jewelry store or by buying the newest over the top camera or electronic gadget?  There may be temporary elation, but this research shows that true happiness is more likely to happen by investing those dollars in a mission project.  Unfortunately, Camphor Mission Station in Liberia has a smaller advertising budget than Lexus.

Second, as you develop your church’s budget for next year, be mindful of what you are spending internally vs. your outreach.  Now not many churches can spend more outside than in, a reality of having a building and a positive worship experience, but you can start growing that direction.  What if you took last year’s budget and made a commitment that for every additional dollar you spend on yourselves this year you will spend an additional dollar in mission?  Or that for every volunteer hour spent on your own kids’ Sunday school and youth experience, you commit a volunteer hour to kids outside your church?

A strong mission program can help unify the church.  Let’s face it, your congregation has more cliques than a 7th grade lunch room.  Mix them up as everyone gets out of their comfort zone to fix houses in Louisiana or feed hungry people in an economically-depressed area of southeastern Ohio.  Giving your people kingdom work to concentrate on can help bring God back to the front of your church.

They say you can’t rock the boat and row the boat at the same time.  Thinking outside your church can give everyone a  place to put an oar in the water.  It will strengthen your church.  And it just might make some people happy.

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