The altruism dividend: a lesson from my brother

by Charles Montgomery on

What’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned in my research looking at cities and happiness? It’s that the our relationships with other people matter more than money, status or beauty. In fact, my friend Elizabeth Dunn showed in her work that money has the most power to buy happiness when you give it away.

Funny thing is, while I have been poking through academic archives and psychology labs, my brother has been spending the last few years living out the science. He opened a surf camp in Nicaragua, but quickly found that the community around his hotel was in dire need. Hundreds of people, displaced by a hurricane, survived by picking garbage at a local dump. So my bro and his Nicaraguan business partner, Jerry, asked surf camp guests to lend a hand. Yup: they asked vacationers to put down their margaritas and surf boards, and spend their afternoons building a medical clinic and an education centre at the dump. Here’s a taste:

Nicaragua Volunteer VacationsfromAmy HansononVimeo.

As it turned out, just about everyone found their sun and surf experience most satisfying when they took time to help. The folks who live in the area, who are getting dental care, medicine, and business training, are happy about it, too. Stories like this are happening all around us, of course. Their message is inspiring: Altruism makes us happier. In Happy City, I explain how humans are actually hard-wired for cooperation and altruistic behaviour. I’d love to hear your stories of how cooperative behaviour among strangers has fueled good feelings.