x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

It's the giving that counts

Felicity Glover believes money can buy happiness, but only if it is in the giving

Gary Clement for The National
Gary Clement for The National

I've been thinking a lot lately about giving rather than receiving.

Call it what you will: a mid-life crisis or my "mature" moment (as opposed to a blonde one, which I've been known to have, too).

That mature moment is a time when finally you feel comfortable enough with your experiences in life that you turn your attention outwards rather than inwards and all that ridiculous angst that has been building up since your teen years; a time when it doesn't matter what people think about how you look, what you are wearing or if you are sporting a few more wrinkles since they last saw you.

Believe me: it's a relief.

Then again, I'm apparently a long way off middle age, too. Thanks to a survey by a website called Love to Learn, middle age apparently doesn't hit until you are 55 these days. So I can rule out the mid-life crisis. Which is also a relief.

But back to giving versus receiving. Which, in turn, brings me to money and happiness.

We all know that money can't buy happiness. Or at least I'd like to think that most of us do.

But what if I did an out-of-character backflip and said it can … buy happiness, that is?

Not because I'm shallow or to say that all I care about is a momentary thrill that a spot of retail therapy can produce (but will always be followed by the guilt of racking up the credit or wasting cash on unnecessary items - at least for me).

Think about it for a moment: a gift, no matter how small and regardless of its cost (even if it is handmade, like the ones I receive from my daughter), brings happiness to others, right?

And when you give something to somebody and see the smile that lights up their face, how does that make you feel? Happy too, right?

So there you go, money can buy happiness.

To test my theory, I did a quick vox pop with some of my friends on Facebook this week. "What makes you happier: buying something for yourself or buying something for somebody else [and why]?" I asked them.

Here's what a few of them had to say:

"Buying the perfect gift for someone else, or something that'll make them smile is much more satisfying. Mind you, buying myself a pair of Jimmy Choos did make me happy in a very shallow way," said one.

Nothing wrong with that; they are Jimmy Choos, after all.

And another: "I often buy for someone and enjoy it more. Never buy much for myself. There's a not so altruistic part of me that does want to see if that person will reciprocate or even just appreciate the gesture. Some may feel totally thankful and surprised, others may feel the burden of being in your debt … others feel no burden at all; indeed, their sense of self-entitlement means reciprocation is not even thought of. I don't want them to be in my debt, but even a small reciprocation makes you feel remembered and cared about. So buying for someone else is a sure-fire way of knowing who cares, who doesn't bother to care and who to avoid ever buying anything for ever again."

So the gift of giving can also be a test for some, while others can feel happy just reading about how somebody else has been helped.

"Of course I love buying something nice, but it reaches a plateau. Maybe it's my age; I do not think I had a plateau when I was a teenager. This made me happy yesterday, for someone else," another friend said, referring to a link she'd provided to a story on Kiva, the non-profit organisation that helps to alleviate poverty by connecting people through small loans.

Others felt it was about balance: "There comes a time in our days when we need to think of ourselves. Sometimes it happens in a bookshop when we see a particular book by an author we like and so we treat ourselves. That is good! In the same book shop, we could see a book that would suit someone we know, eg, child or grandchild. When we buy that book, we get a bigger smile on our face as we see the other person's face light up with glee at such a small gift."

And finally: "Seriously, it seems that I fall into the habit of one for them, one for me! Christmas shopping gets expensive, but then everyone is happy."

A book I stumbled across this week - Happy Money: The Science of Spending, by the behaviourial scientists Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton - has found that giving to others really does make us happy, as does a few other things, such as "choosing experiences" or giving back through charity.

A friend's sister in the United States does just that. Every year, she heads to Haiti with a group called Sionfonds for Haiti, where they set up medical clinics in rural areas.

"Among other things, we provide children with vaccinations, hand out thousands of antibiotics for parasites and other infections and conduct dental examinations," she said. "It is not uncommon for children and adults to have multiple infected teeth pulled with only a small dosage of a local anaesthetic. In the States, this would warrant hospitalisation and a week off of work to recover!

"Witnessing the spirit of the Haitian people, their resilience and appreciation for what little in life they have is more meaningful to me than anything I could possibly buy for myself. It is a humbling experience and a true lesson on life's real beauty."

I think Winston Churchill would agree with my friend's sister. "We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give," he once said.