Can Giving Things Away Make You Happier?

Remember coming home from trick or treating and just admiring your mountain of candy?  I do.  My sister and I would swim in it Scrooge McDuck style.  Children don’t have money so things like toys and candy are special to them.  This year, my children’s school participated in the “Halloween Candy Drive” sponsored by the B fund.  For every piece of candy they give away the B fund donated $0.25 to Boston Children’s Hospital. The school wanted 20 pieces of candy per child turned in the next day.  It got me thinking – will my kids act the way I hope when it comes time to part with their candy?  Does giving things away make you happier – at any age?

Halloween Night

We trick or treat in our friend’s neighborhood.  Our street doesn’t have too many children on it and it is more fun to go out with other friends.  The houses we went to tend to go all out.  They have the decorations, full size candy bars and one house even plays Hocus Pocus on a big screen television outside.  I knew it would not be difficult to get 20+ pieces of candy.  They ended up getting tired of walking by 7:30 but the bags felt heavy enough so we called it a night.  I wondered if I should just put 20 pieces of candy away while they slept and hope they wouldn’t notice.  Instead, I wanted to see if they would be into it (or devastated).  I did what any good parent would do, took my “mom tax” candy and ate it while they slept leaving the task for the next morning.

Participation Required

Giving things away is one of my favorite activities.  I’d love to say this is because I am a great person but it actually stems from my hatred of clutter.  I’ve tried to clear out some of the kid’s toys that they don’t play with a few times. Typically whatever makes its way to a box in the hallway makes its way out soon after.  It is like somehow old toys are more important because we are getting rid of them.  This makes sense to me though when I think about what they “have” at their age, which isn’t much.  Toys are one of their few possessions and taking them away without their involvement feels pretty bad.  I’ve had my lunch swiped from the work fridge before so I understand this frustration.  I’m glad I waited until the next day to let them help.

All Saints Day

My daughter is 4 years old.  She loves chocolate and candy and was quite pleased with all of the treats she had in her bag.  I asked her to put 20 pieces of candy in a new bag for children who couldn’t go trick or treating because they were sick.  She put nearly every piece of candy into the new bag.  For her, candy is more like a river than a pond.  She wasn’t concerned that she wouldn’t get more candy if she gave some away and she was happy that she was making me so happy.  I couldn’t help but smile and cheer her on as she stuffed the new bag.  In the end, she gave about 40 pieces of candy away.  She also ate about 5 pieces for breakfast.  We’re not perfect.

Tricked out of treats

My son is 6 and had a little hesitation when it came to giving away his candy.  He put 12 pieces in the bag on his own.  Candy is more like a pond to him and the water level was getting lower. This didn’t make him feel so good. I talked to him about what the cause was and so he said I should give away some too.  Solid burn, returned.  I made up the last 8 pieces from our bag of Reese’s that we bought to give trick or treaters knowing we weren’t going to be home to pass any out.

Giving things away

At assembly later that week we heard about the enormous amount of candy that had been collected.  The kids were all cheering and proud of their contribution.  While 20 pieces of candy wouldn’t last long in the house the impact of giving the same amount away will likely feel good much longer.  In Dr. Elizabeth Dunn’s book Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending she describes her research on how happy giving makes you when compared to receiving something of the same value.  It’s no surprise that the good feelings that come with helping others last longer than from helping yourself.  If you always feel bad when it comes to money maybe you should try to give some away?  Even if you don’t have much it might make you feel better!

Do you have leftover candy this year?  Is it helping you get through Daylight Savings Time with children??  Let me know in the comments! 
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