Money can buy happiness? As Fr. Mike Schmitz points out, yes, money actually can buy happiness if you spend it on other people. Spending money on other people can “buy happiness” because it doesn’t have to do with the money—it has to do with gratitude, sharing, charity, helping others meet their needs, surprising someone with a thoughtful gift, and spreading positive community.
God is King and Creator of the Universe, which means He is probably incredibly wealthy in all the best ways. God becoming man as Jesus Christ teaches us all about how “buying happiness” isn’t about money. Not only does Jesus promote giving in His preaching, but He is the ultimate gift. He gave his life, which he spent teaching what is really important. Whether it was accepting a gift of precious oil or tossing tables in the temple, Jesus knew what money and gifts actually meant.
In a world where money seems to mean everything and consumerism surrounds us, it’s important for us to focus on the Gospel message of giving instead of focusing on a need to acquire material things. It’s a mercy to others (and even to ourselves) when we give.
As Mother Teresa said, “Good works are links that form a chain of love.” In this year of mercy, I would like to share what I have learned from giving to the poor.
Being anonymous feels great.
Ever wondered what Matthew 6:3 was really all about? It says, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
Those who give are often shown gratitude. Sometimes this means a simple thank-you. Other times this means an entire building in their name. It’s great to show gratitude to those who give, but have you ever purposefully given anonymously?
Giving alms is a great way to learn to be an answer to someone else’s prayer without knowing it. When you hear of someone in need, whether a family struggling to pay bills or a stranger looking for a job, try to find a way to give to them. Perhaps it is a family in your parish and you can give anonymously through the church office or priest. Maybe there’s a special collection at your church and you choose to give in cash instead of check.
Giving without one hand knowing what the other is doing means to give without tally-marking it on your list of good deeds. It means to simply give for the sake of giving—not to give for the sake of having your name written on a plaque or receiving a thank you card in the mail. Even if you do happen to end up receiving those acts of gratitude, stay humble and give without expecting anything in return.
What to do when you find money in your sock drawer.
Recently, I actually found money in my sock drawer. I don’t remember when I put it there, but I remember thinking that I’d put it there for a rainy day. Turns out, when I found it, I didn’t need it anymore. My dad wisely suggested giving it to a charity I like.
Maybe you’re not like me and you don’t hide money away from yourself in a sock drawer. But, I bet you have come across money before that you knew was yours—perhaps because it was stowed away in your pant pocket and fell out in the dryer—but you no longer need.
If you did need the money, you’d rejoice like the lady and the lost coin from the Bible. Otherwise, if you’re not rejoicing out of your need for the extra cash, then maybe you should give it away. It’s a good idea to put that in the poor box at your church or donate it elsewhere. Let someone else rejoice when they receive that surprise!
Coin jars can’t hold coins forever.
Almost everyone has that jar, mug, bucket, or random spot on the counter where loose change finds a temporary home. We all accumulate change in our purses or pockets throughout the day and find it when we do laundry or just need to clean out our purse.
What do you do with that extra change once it’s built up? If you don’t need it—and chances are that if you’ve just let it sit there for months, you don’t—someone else certainly does. Donate it! There’s a better use for that dusty old coin jar than to sit there accumulating coins and dust. Make it a tradition to go out once or twice a year, find out how much you collected, and donate it to others.
Paying it forward feels great, even if you haven’t been on the receiving end yet.
There’s a movie called Pay it Forward, which is where I first heard the term. In it, a young boy is assigned to put in action an idea that will change the world. He does so by paying a favor forward to three people, asking them to do the same instead of paying just one person back.
As Fr. Mike Schmitz points out, money buys happiness when you spend it on others. Imagine how great “paying it forward” feels! This doesn’t necessarily have to do with money, but it could! In the movie, the concept is a national phenomenon. Instead of feeling indebted to one specific person, the receiver doesn’t feel helpless but, rather, empowered to help others. The giver, on the other hand, feels happy to help just for the sake of helping.
That’s a powerful concept—to pay it forward. I may never know how those I helped payed it forward to others, but whenever I hear someone use that term or have a chance to give or receive a helping hand, it makes me smile. Try to pay it forward in your life!
God knows if you’re giving “according to your means.”
God knows if you could give more or if you give too much. That’s why we’re called to prudence—a balance, in this case, to know if you have met your family’s needs enough to give more to others or if you are the one in need of saving money and possibly reaching out for help.
Everyone can give time or talent, so if you’re in a position where you are poor and can’t be the one giving money, don’t think you have nothing to give. On the flip side of this coin, you might have more than enough money—what are you going to do with it? Is it really helping anyone sitting in your bank account? There are those out there who need it more than you. Count up what you have and decide what you can reasonably give. I’m not asking you to feel guilty for what you have—just to put some honest thought into what you have to give.
Next time you hear “according to your means,” wouldn’t it be nice to have reflected on what that looks like in your unique circumstances.
Random acts of kindness are a fun past-time.
Hobbies almost always cost money. If you love boating, you have to buy and keep up a boat. If you love a sport, you need equipment and shoes for that, most likely. If you sew, you need machines and material. Luckily, if you have time for a hobby that means you have a job, and are more likely to be in the position to help than to need financial help.
I’d like to suggest more people choose to add another hobby to their list. This one won’t need its own closet storage space or fancy equipment; it’s random acts of kindness.
I know a very kind lady, who often takes opportunities to do random acts of kindness. I won’t tell you this kind person’s name because these things aren’t done for show. It doesn’t always involve money, but I’ve been with her when it has. For example, she paid for a newly married couple’s lunch one day after having a short conversation with them. Another time, she paid for a lady’s groceries at the store when the lady’s credit card didn’t work. There wasn’t very much in her cart, but it helped feed her family.
Keep an eye out for an opportunity of your own. For example, next time you see a lonely man or woman at the local dinner, ask your waitress to anonymously pay for their dinner if you can.
Carry some good, old fashioned cash!
Who carries cash around anymore? Well, I’ve learned you should. First of all, what if your credit or debit card doesn’t work and PayPal isn’t accepted at the gas station when you are travelling? But, secondly, how do you give money to the poor without having actual money?
If I hadn’t carried extra cash on me in the city, I wouldn’t have been able to help out the couple people that needed it by giving them a couple dollars. You don’t have to empty your wallet for every person you meet, but you won’t even have the opportunity to give a little if you aren’t carrying anything.
Credit cards are a great modern invention, but they aren’t very charitable unless you’re filling out a charity donation card that accepts them. Otherwise, those spontaneous moments you decide to give to another, if you don’t have extra cash in your pocket, you can’t give.
Money isn’t everything, but it does have an odd way of buying happiness when you give it away to others. Instead of clinging to money, when you give money to others, you’re giving food, shelter, a taxi ride, or helping fill a tank of gas for someone who is short. You’re also building positive community without even knowing people’s names. So, be honest with yourself: what can you give?