How Do We Find Happiness? by Giving

2 Corinthians 9:6-15
October 26, 2013

 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,
‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
   his righteousness endures for ever.’ 
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

            I want give you a quick quiz: what’s the one extremely lucky thing, that if it happened to you, would both fulfill your dreams and ruin your life at the same time?  

            You probably guessed it, but the answer is winning the lotto. The fact is that, as often as not, winning the lotto ruins lives. Studies have been done on this, and many researchers have found that when you win the lotto, your life improves appreciably, and then in the ensuing years degrades incredibly. Many lotto winners end up worse off 5-10 years later than they were before they won. Let me give you some examples.

            Lara and Robert Griffith won $2.7 million. Before winning, they were reportedly a happy couple, but within two years of winning it their 14-year marriage ended. They first bought a million dollar house and he bought a Porsche. He then started having affairs, and then they called it quits.

            Sharon Tirabassi won $10 million from an Ontario lottery. She had been on welfare before winning. After winning she bought a huge house, bought a jacked up designer car, outfitter herself in designer clothes, hosted lavish parties, took exotic trips, gave handouts to family, and bad loans to friends. Within 10 years she was back in poverty.

            Ibi Roncailoli won $5 million, but she kept the winnings for herself and didn’t really share them with her husband, a gynecologist, or even tell him what she was doing with it.  Two years later he murdered her with an overdose of painkillers after he found out that she gave $2 million to man she secretly had child with (how you keep the child a secret from a gynecologist I’ll never know).

            Evelyn Adams won the New Jersey lotto twice, the two totaling $5.4. Over the course of 5 years she gambled it all away in Atlantic City and is now living in a trailer park.

            Willie Hurt won $3.1 million in the Michigan lottery. Two years later he was a crack addict, was separated from his wife, lost custody of his children, and was accused of murder.  

            My point in all of this is that so many of us think that winning the lottery would make us happier, and that having tons of money would make life easier, but many, if not most, winners find their lives become a mess after winning. This shouldn’t shock anyone, since Christianity has been talking about the connection between wealth and unhappiness, as well as giving and happiness, for thousands of years. Scripture constantly talks about how giving leads to happiness, and extreme wealth leads to unhappiness. But that’s a hard message to get across in a culture that equates the acquisition of wealth with the pursuit of happiness. When the Declaration of Independence said that we are endowed with “certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” modern Americans have equated that happiness with being rich. But that’s not what the founders believed. They believed that the pursuit of a meaningful life led to happiness, and that the nation should protect that right.

            The funny thing is that while Christianity has been saying for centuries that the pursuit of wealth for wealth’s sake leads to misery, and that giving leads to happiness, it’s only been in recent years that social research has confirmed this ancient wisdom. And in our modern life, nothing seems to be accepted as true until social research says it is.

            Many journalists are writing stories of what social researchers are finding regarding the connection between wealth and unhappiness, and giving and happiness. For example, Britt Peterson, a freelance writer for the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News, did a wonderful article citing research on how money changes us, and how the more money we have, the more it changes us (“Why it matters that our politicians are rich”). She wrote the article during the 2012 election, and noted that most people running for office now are exceedingly wealthy.

            She noted that there is a preponderance of research out now showing that the more money we have, the more it changes our personalities. As we become wealthier, we become more security conscious and less compassionate. She noted that recent research shows that when people just think about money, they become more focused on personal goals, while their ability to form relationships degrades. As one researcher cited said, “What money does ... is, it obviates the need for others… When you have feelings of security, there’s no extra motivation to spend your resources for compassion on other people.” Peterson also said that recent research shows that “a subject whose family income is over $75,000 will show more compassion and generosity than a subject with a family income over $150,000, and less than a subject with an income of $30,000.”

            Peterson’s insights are backed up by other studies and research. Ken Stern, a writer for The Atlantic magazine noted that in 2011, the wealthiest Americans— those with earnings in the top 20 percent—contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent—donated 3.2 percent of their income (“Why the Rich Don't Give to Charity”). In other words, the less money you have, the more you are likely to give sacrificially, while the more money you have, the less likely you are to give sacrificially.
Basically, the more we have, the less likely we are to share, even if we have more to share

            This is all getting to Paul’s point for this morning, which is a point Jesus made over and over again in the gospels. They both teach that a secret to finding both meaning in life and happiness is to give—to be generous—not just with money, but with time, effort, and love.

            Adam Grant, an organizational psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, talks about the impact of giving on happiness in his book, Give and Take. He suggests that there are basically three types of people in the world when it comes to how we negotiate and relate:  Givers, Takers, and Matchers. Matchers are people who look for fairness and equity in relationships and negotiations. Their attitude is that “if you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours.” In negotiations they look for what is fair and equal. Takers, as you can imagine, are people who look for advantage. They enter negotiations and relationships to see what they can get, and they love to get more out of negotiations and relationships than they put in. They always want more than is given. Givers are the opposite. They enter relationships and negotiations looking for ways to improve people’s lives. They want what’s best, not what’s equal.

            Grant’s research show that most people, relatively speaking, are Givers in their personal lives, but only 8 percent of people describe themselves as Givers at work. In other words, when we move into a work environment we are more likely to become a Matcher or even a Taker. The irony of this is that Givers are generally the most successful people in business, and they typically are the happiest. As he says, "There is powerful evidence that givers experience more meaning in their work than takers or matchers."

            A great example of this is John Huntsman. You may remember him from the 2012 presidential election where he ran for president as part of the Republican primary. He didn’t do all that well, but that may have something to do with his qualities. Before running for president he was a past governor of Utah, and then an ambassador to China under the Obama Administration.

            According to his 2008 book, Winners Never Cheat, he was in negotiations with Charles Miller Smith, the CEO of a British chemical company, to acquire it. In the midst of negotiations, Smith’s wife died. This potentially gave Huntsman a great negotiating advantage. He knew that he could use Smith’s grief to chip away another 20% of the price.  Here’s what Huntsman said about it: "I decided the fine points of the last 20 percent of the deal would stand as they were proposed… I probably could have clawed another $200 million out of the deal, but it would have come at the expense of Charles' emotional state. The agreement as it stood was good enough." What’s made Huntsman successful is his willingness to give, rather than to match or even to take.

            This fits completely with Paul’s and Jesus’ teachings: if we want to find meaning and purpose in life; if we want to find God in life; if we want to serve God in life, find a way to become a giver.

            The whole point of this is that if you really want to be happy, live a generous life. Now it’s easy to think that my point is to compel you to give more to the church, but that’s not what I’m aiming at. My point is that while I do want you to give to the church, and giving is important, what’s really important is to be a giver in everything. Don’t just give to the church. Give to charity. Give your time and effort to people in need. Give your compassion to people who are struggling. Give your love to others and to God.

            Basically, if you want to find happiness in life, you will find it in generosity.