On a recent trip to Boston for a conference, I didn't take any recreational reading with me. I did my presentation on Saturday, woke up way too early on Sunday, and decided to watch Ted Talks on my iphone to learn something and keep myself entertained until a suitable hour to get up. I happened across this Ted Talk by Michael Norton, "How to Buy Happiness." The gist is that people are happier spending money on others than they are spending money on themselves. When you spell it out that way, it sounds like kind of a no-brainer. I just didn't realize how much more happy the act of buying something for some else would be, regardless of the amount of money being spent.
While at the conference, I think we facilitated the happiness of Jenn's old college friend one day and her old high school friend the next day by letting them treat us to meals and such... the usual stuff, but the end result was that I still had a lot of my travel cash in my wallet when I got home. So I decided to buy some happiness in the form of four $5 gift cards to our local most excellent chain of Wawa convenience stores. Wawa is more than a convenience store though -- a person can get all means of prepared foods, coffee, basic groceries, or whatever.
I took a walk that afternoon with the four cards in my pocket. It was interesting to think about the criteria about how I would bestow the cards. In the end, I just decided I'd know when the time was right. My first one went to a subway busker that had a sign propped up in his guitar case that said, "Anything will help today, even a smile." I smiled at him and he smiled at me, so I asked him if he liked Wawa. He said yes, so I put the card in his case and said, "$5." And he said, "It'll buy my dinner!" More smiles all around.
The next morning I was monologuing at my 7th grade son Corley as I took him to school early for orchestra practice. I told him about my little Wawa card game, and he said, "Give me one." I said, "Okay. You can either spend it on yourself or you can give it to someone else, but you have to tell me the story of what happens to it." With card number three, I invited my coworker TL to play. I'm still waiting on her story, but just by my giving it to her, I got happier. Corley reported having given his away already. It turns out that he had forgotten his lunch that day and asked his classmates if anyone had anything to share. One kid volunteered some Cheetos -- apparently the only one who offered anything. Cheetos boy got the gift card, which I thought was excellent. Corley asked for card #4, which he said he planned to hide in a library book to see if anyone would find it. He's still got it with him a day later though, so perhaps he's revising his plan. Can't wait for that story, if for no other reason it can turn my usual monologue with him into an actual conversation.
Now I'm carrying around two Dunkin Donuts gift cards and one Trader Joe's gift card and keeping an eye out for the right people to surprise them with. Jenn and I are also going to spot both boys $25 to go to www.donorschoose.org over the Thanksgiving weekend to pick a school project to donate some money to that resonates with them.
While you are out shopping for the holidays, pick up a spare gift card or two to give away just for the fun of it. You'll most certainly get your money's worth in warm feelings and the story that comes with it.