This is an article from the September-October 2014 issue: Ethnodoxology

Giving and Happiness

Further Reflections

Giving and Happiness

Giving is an interesting aspect of our lives. You would think that it would be painful to give away what is “ours,” but a number of recent studies show that givers are actually happier.

Authors Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton looked at tons of scientific research on how people feel when they use their money. Their book Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending details study after study about what makes people happy when it comes to money. One chapter is focused on investing in others. 

Here are a few of the things from the book: “Remarkably, there is almost no evidence that buying a home—or a newer, nicer home—increases happiness.” (p 2) There was also no relationship at all between the Blue Book value of the car and the amount of enjoyment the owners got from driving it. (p 29)

Beyond that, the amount of money individuals devoted to themselves was unrelated to their overall happiness. What did predict happiness? The amount they gave away. (p 109)

People given a gift card to give to someone else were happier than those who were given a gift card to spend on themselves. And “how people spent the money mattered much more than how much of it they got.” (p 109) If, in addition to giving to someone, they spent time with the person, they were also happier. (p 119) 

It turns out that investing in other people and spending time with them brings the most benefits to the giver, affecting not only happiness but health and other areas of life. But actually, this shouldn’t be a surprise.

Like many things, the Scriptures tell us to expect this. According to 2 Cor. 8:2, the churches in Macedonia had “…a severe ordeal of suffering, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in the wealth of their generosity.” Paul goes on to say they begged for the opportunity to give and gave beyond their means. But all of that was the overflow of their having given themselves to the Lord first. 

Commentators often talk about the major theme of Philippians being joy. In chapter 4, Paul expresses “great joy in the Lord” because of their concern for him and giving to his life and ministry. He tells them that he sought not the gift, but “the credit that abounds to your account.”

Jesus established this giving principle in his simple but profound statement:

“Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:9-21 NET) 

In his book, The Law of Rewards: Giving What You Can’t Keep to Gain What You Can’t Loose, Randy Alcorn says everything we have now will be destroyed…and everything we give to the Lord in life becomes treasure in heaven that cannot be destroyed or taken away.

Meditate on that for a few minutes. Think about what you are doing with your time and earthly treasure.

My wife and I have been supported missionaries since 1982. While we have been on the receiving end of many faithful and joy-filled churches and individuals, we have also seen this work in our own giving.

I learned this even before we were married. A few years before we joined staff at the USCWM, I was in seminary and was going on a 12-week overseas mission trip to SE Asia. I came to church one Sunday as some of the money was coming due for the trip. After the college/young adult class I was leading was over, I sat in church, about to tithe my small amount. I wondered where the funds for my trip would come. Should I give to my own short-term trip? The answer was yes, just not at the expense of giving (and serving!) my local church. So I put my usual amount in the offering. As I returned to the classroom, there was an envelope there with my name on it, with a cash gift about five times the amount I had given to the church.

It doesn’t always happen that directly, but I’ve learned that giving our lives and resources is in reality investing in both our rewards in heaven and in people’s lives today. What are you investing in? Who are you investing in? Can you think of someone who needs the encouragement from you today—either by a word of encouragement or a gift? God works in such a way that joy and reward is yours.


Follow Greg on Twitter: @parsonsgh


Greg, Thank you for this article, it is very well done.

Giving to poor children in Israel while traversing the Judean desert 3 years ago this very day, I realized then and there that my giving was not just a material act, but a spiritual one.

Their tiny,dirty farm and animals showed me how they scratched a living out of the desert sand. Their bodies were clothed simply, yet stained with the soil and sand they labored in with their father and mother. Their bodies were equally stained as their clothing…

When we approached them (I had a team with me), I could see their eager faces, they desired all our shekel coinage that we could offer. Unlike Peter and John who had no money as described in Acts 3:6, I did have some.

However, as they looked at me and into my eyes, and as I looked into their eyes, I saw something else-a hunger for Life. I spoke a blessing over each of them as I shared my limited material wealth, but with it, I gave them a blessing that pointed them to the immeasurable wealth of heaven.

Paul stated in II Corinthians 4:7, that we are simple earthen vessels containing heavenly treasure. Peter and John demonstrated this to that man. Acts 3:7-8 describe authoritatively what happened next, as that treasure from heaven quickened that man with the Life their non-tangible Treasure contained.

John 6:63 underscores this. Jesus, or as I prefer to say in Israel-Yeshua said, My words are Spirit and Life. In my word study of the original text, He is clearly stating that his words are the Life-breath of an Eternal, incorruptible, unfailing God.

Yeshua embodied the heart of His Father, and manifested His Father’s will and heart by speaking and living among us, and in so doing, gave Life to the world. That is the heart of John 3:16’s simple message. And yet, I can strip that verse down even more, and make the motives of the Father down to even a simpler, “bare-bones” context that simply illustrates His intent:

“God Loved, [so] God gave.”

What did He give us? Life! Eternal Life, also embodied in His Son, the Redeemer of Israel and mankind as a whole. I had the Love and Life of the Father in my heart and eyes as I blessed these children. And indeed, as you so aptly stated, the joy of sharing in giving “to the least of these” was boundless as we continued on our way northward up the Jordan valley and to Poriya above the southern end of the Sea of Galilee.

This is why Paul admonished the Corinthian Church to “excel” in the blessing of giving… II Corinthians 8:7:

But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

Finally, Romans 8:31-32:

31 What then shall we say to all this? If God is for us, who can be against us? Who can be our foe, if God is on our side?

32 He who did not withhold or spare even His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also with Him freely and graciously give us all things? [ref. Matthew 6:33]

Shalom Aleichem, Greg, please give your wife my greeting and blessing also!

MD grin


Thanks Michael,

I appreciate your reading and posting here.
You are correct, ultimately what people need and want is to know how to be right with God. Like the guard with Paul: “What do I have to do to be saved”
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, put is beyond any of us. We have to be PURE in heart to see God.
Thankfully, he also give us the power to be that.
All we need to do is repent!

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