April 15, 2008

Dollar Challenge

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If you have a Dad like mine, you’ve probably heard innumerable lectures about the value of a dollar. Yet there’s some truth to that today. With just one dollar, you can buy a song off of iTunes or most other online music stores. Or you could get an item off of the value menu at fast food chains such as Burger King or McDonalds. And that’s not even counting the numerous items you can find at the dollar stores.

Now a new study from the University of British Columbia indicates that a dollar might be able to buy you much more. Elizabeth Dunn, a social psychologist, set up an experiment where people were asked whether they would rather spend money on themselves or on someone else. They were then given five dollars or twenty dollars each. Half of the people were instructed to spend the money on themselves, while the other half was instructed to spend the money on other people.

Not surprisingly, most of them said that they’d rather spend money on themselves.

But the results indicated that those who spent the money on other people, even if they had just been given five dollars, were happier than those who spent money on themselves.

As with all scientific studies, I approach the experimental method and the conclusions drawn with a little trepidation. Nevertheless, it is an intriguing thought that even donating a small amount of money can be better for us. Most of us know that there are big problems in the world such as poverty. Yet many of us see the problems and still donate nothing. Laziness is often the reason, but there are excuses such as an unexpected payment, wanting to have enough money to buy something else, or simply earning only enough to live hand to mouth.

So here’s a thought: Maybe, instead of buying a burger or that one extra song, you could try donating one dollar a month to charity. Give more if you like, but don’t just give $12 one month and then call it quits. Actually donate at least one dollar each month as a habit.

Why? I could go into the amount of money raised each year if every Cornell student gave at least $1 each month. But here’s a simpler thought: One dollar will not make or break most of us Cornellians no matter what we have to spend each month, and we can all agree that giving something is better than giving nothing. Perhaps in doing so, you’ll find more value and more happiness coming out of your money. And perhaps we’ll make the world a better place too.