Can you buy happiness? Maybe you can.

Every holiday season, when we go grocery shopping or are at the malls, we walk by the ever-present bell ringer next to a red bucket.  Some of us drop some change or even a few bills into the donation pot for the Salvation Army.  We feel good about our donation no matter the amount, because we hope we are making someone’s holiday just a little better.

This year, try this experiment and take the “money in the bucket” a bit further:  walk in the door of any nonprofit around the valley and make the donation in person.  Go to your local food bank and hand them a gift or visit a shelter for the homeless or teens and leave them a check.   As part of your Christmas shopping list, also make a list of the organizations to which you and your family will donate.  Any amount will do!  Next, I want you to think about the path of that money, the money that you just gave away, and who it might help.

Then make that gift in person!

They say money cannot buy you happiness but actually, it can. Studies show that people who give money to charity are happier people. Pro-social spending can benefit you while you are helping other people.  Studies also indicate that happiness and health are interrelated, and being more content may directly benefit the heart. The Gallup World Poll of 2008 revealed that people who give to charity are happier than people who do not.  The World Giving Index conducted in 153 countries found a better correlation between a country’s degree of happiness and giving than between its wealth and giving. The US ranked 5th in the poll whose purpose was to rank each country by its overall behavior of giving.

Back to our experiment. Now, compare the feeling you experienced when you made that donation, to the feeling you get when you purchased something for yourself. Sure, you might feel good about the new skis you just bought but is it the same kind of feeling you get when you just helped feed a family, or gave a coat to a shivering child, or helped a child in desperate need of a bed? Does it warm your insides and fill your heart?  The Flathead Valley is a beautiful place and we forget how fortunate we are to live here.  However, beyond that beauty, there is a serious level of need and many times, it goes unnoticed in our daily lives. There are organizations in our communities that are working tirelessly to help people and improve their quality of life.

With the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, many of us will no longer need to itemize our taxes. If we do not itemize, we will be less inclined to give AND deduct charitable gifts.  Is that the reason not to give? Giving is not about your wealth or getting a tax deduction but is about a return on investment.  And that return is an investment in your own happiness, in your own health.  Try it and see if you feel better.

~Linda Engh-Grady, President, Whitefish Community Foundation