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What if money could buy happiness?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:21
Growing up, the wisdom about money that most of us heard from our parents was “Money cannot buy happiness.” (This quip was usually delivered in response to a desired toy or trip that was beyond our parents’ means.) Most of us grew to adulthood adopting this pious wisdom and sharing it with the children in our lives.
Three times in ten days this past summer, God tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Pay attention!” The topic all three times was the connection between money, our children, and our faith.
The link between children and money first surfaced in my parenting group at church. Should kids get an allowance? If so, should it be based on chores done? Or should children be expected to pitch in because they are part of the family but still receive some discretionary money?

Marillyn Sharpe

Norton explored the correlation between having money beyond basic needs and happiness. Does money increase, decrease, or have no impact on happiness?

What should kids at various ages be expected to do with this money? Is it all available for the child to spend as he or she chooses? Should church offering come out of it? How about teaching children to save? Should children be allowed to spend it foolishly and regret it, or should parents guide the use of money?
A few parents bemoaned that their own parents taught them little or nothing about money. Some felt their parents’ tight control over money taught them nothing but an impulse to escape from that control. All of us fear that our children will become greedy, materialistic, and ungrateful. So many questions, so little consensus; so much stress, so little happiness.
Second, the same day, seminary professor David Lose offered his daily meditation on this topic, embedding an 11-minute video featuring Harvard Business School professor and psychologist Michael Norton. Norton described research about the relationship between money and happiness. Obviously, not having enough money to pay for basic needs in life causes stress and unhappiness. But Norton explored the correlation between having money beyond basic needs and happiness. Does money increase, decrease, or have no impact on happiness?
Norton did his research across cultures, socio-economic groups, and age demographics. He asked subjects to rate their happiness. Then, he gave each participant $5-20, with the only stipulation that it must be spent before 5:00 p.m. that evening. Half the research group was told to spend it on themselves. The other half was to spend it on someone else, without specifying the recipient or what the money should provide. At 5:00 p.m., he only asked if they had spent the money as specified and had them assess their level of happiness.
Regardless of age, nationality, education, or socio-economic status, the results were identical. All research subjects spent the money as they were told. Those who spent it on themselves, regardless of the amount, reported no change in their happiness. Those who spent it on others, whether it was to pay a bill, buy coffee, purchase a gift, or donate it to charity, reported an increase in their happiness.
Third, a week later, I attended a family camp at Heartwood Center on the theme of “Building the Heart of Your Family: Living Generous Lives.” My dear friend and Thrivent agent Bruce Ensrud offered a transforming presentation, engaging each family to talk together about money. He lead them through conversation about the values they express with their money and planning how they will share (yes, spend their money on others), save (identifying their goals), and spend their money (on themselves).
So, is there a connection between how we spend our money and happiness? It appears that the answer is “yes”!

Family activities

1. Introduce the idea of Share-Save-Spend to your family. Discuss what your family would do if you received $1,000. How much and with whom would you share? How much and for what purpose would you save some? How much and for what purpose would you spend some?
2. If you give an allowance, use three envelopes (or a Thrivent piggy bank with the three sections), and help them decide how much goes in each category.
3. Let your children overhear you when you plan your charitable giving. Let them hear why you give to the causes you support and how it reflects your values. Discuss as a family what possessions you might give away and to whom. Point to Jesus, who tells us that where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also.
Marilyn Sharpe is an author, teacher, presenter, and congregational coach for Marilyn Sharpe Ministries, LLC. Her recently published book is For Heaven’s Sake: Parenting Preschoolers Faithfully. Email:; phone: 612/202-8152.

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