I was broadcast this morning on BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought speaking on the subject of happiness. If you are in the UK you can listen to it at approximately 45 minutes into the recording.
I’ve just recently upgraded my mobile phone. The shiny chunk of metal with its gleaming screen arrived home a few weeks ago, and when I held the object of desire in my hands, it felt like something I had been missing had finally arrived. I felt happy.
After my brief tingle of excitement, I asked myself – more soberly – if it was really the object that had made me so excited and whether money had just bought me happiness.
According to scientific research it turns out that money can indeed buy happiness. Money that gets you out of crushing poverty, and all the basic misery associated with it, undoubtedly improves happiness. After that, it’s relative. If I have more than my peers, I feel happy. But after a certain point, more money doesn’t make us more happy.
The research identifies the different ways we spend money that really give us different amounts of happiness. Buying things makes us happy, just like me and my phone. After that we spend our money on experiences. And finally on other people.
And it’s this final act that increases our happiness the most. As the saying goes “there is more pleasure in giving than receiving”. And now we have science to say the same thing.
And yet despite knowing this we continue to aspire to gain more money and more things which don’t necessarily improve our happiness. Most of us spend so little time doing good things, things that make us truly happy.
Unfortunately, those things that make us happy aren’t very fashionable. Expressing our gratitude for what we have improves our state of mind, but isn’t always very cool. It seems harder than ever to be randomly kind to a stranger without having your motives suspected. And sometimes it’s just pure lethargy: it’s easier to be unhappy and moan about it, than to go out there, do some good and be happy.
According to the Prophet Muhammad, one very vital form of giving to others is smiling. It’s easy and contagious and will brighten up someone’s day. And if you’re still doubtful, according to science, smiling makes us feel better too. So to start all of our days in a positive way – this smile is just for you.