This recent article caught my eye – Money buys happiness — if you spend on someone else:
Money can buy happiness, but only if you spend it on someone else, researchers reported on Thursday.
Spending as little as $5 a day on someone else could significantly boost happiness, the team at the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School found.
Their experiments on more than 630 Americans showed they were measurably happier when they spent money on others — even if they thought spending the money on themselves would make them happier.
They gave their volunteers $5 or $20 and half got clear instructions on how to spend it. Those who spent the money on someone or something else reported feeling happier about it.
“These findings suggest that very minor alterations in spending allocations — as little as $5 — may be enough to produce real gains in happiness on a given day,” Dunn said.
I was recently listening to a podcast when one of the guests, when he discovered that the hosts didn’t believe in God, started talking about how if you don’t believe in God, then you don’t believe in anything, and that you can do anything. No doubt, atheists are like rabid animals without the fear of a divine policeman. The problem is this: as the article above shows, there are reasons to be charitable and moral even without the fear of earthly or divine punishment. (You mean that people will attempt to do what makes them happy? Unbelievable.)
The idea also raises another thought: that people attach “God” to whatever makes them happy. They have a near-death-experience where they see a comforting light at the end of the tunnel. Conclusion: it’s God. They meditate and find inner peace. Conclusion: it’s God. They volunteer or give to charity and feel good about it. Conclusion: it’s what God wants them to do. A while back, I remember reading about an experiment where they gave volunteers mushrooms and asked them about it later. One third of them said it was the most significant spiritual experience of their lives. And evangelical churches do their best to create a caring, moving experience so help believers feel that they’ve had a genuine spiritual (i.e. pleasurable) experience. I’m reminded of ancient Hinduism. It also used the “pleasure = the divine” idea. When a man and woman have sex, it feels so good that it must be divine. They have ancient temples covered with people having sex. They wrote the Kama Sutra.
Over time, it seems, religions moved away from the more temporary forms of pleasure and towards more long-lasting versions (love, charity, etc), and labeling the more temporary pleasures (sex) as illusionary or devilish.
But, even the atheistic thinkers were coming to conclusions about momentary pleasures versus long-lasting happiness. Hedonism is a dirty word according to modern definitions because it is associated with sex, money, and drugs. But, the idea of Hedonism started back with the Greeks. Epicurus argued for Hedonism, but “claimed that the highest pleasure consists of a simple, moderate life spent with friends and in philosophical discussion.” (They practice moderation and intelligent conversation with friends? What a bunch of hedonists!)
But now that charity leads to happiness (something which was known through experience and now experimentally), the ancient definition of “hedonism” (seeking pleasure) actually has to include charity. That’s right: charity is hedonism.
So, I guess my points are that atheists have reasons to be good and moral (it leads to happiness), and point out that religions have attempted to take whatever leads to happiness and attach “it must be God” — which is kind of sad when you think about how blind and misguided that idea is.