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Buy Yourself Some Happiness

150301_coverMark 8:31-38

Year B, 2nd Sunday in Lent

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:34b-3)

What does it really mean to lose your life for Jesus’ sake? Jesus is asking us to lose our life in order to gain true life, but what is true life?

  • We have been told that life is a competition; a zero-sum game where to get ahead you have to get more than the other person.
  • We have been told that life is won when we gain the upper hand over the people around us.
  • We have been told that we will be happy by getting all the things we need to be satisfied and comfortable: by possessing the right things: the right car, the right house, the right smart-phone, or the right clothes.

The message of today’s Gospel reading is that that is all a lie. To illustrate this, I want to tell you about a study done at the business school of the University of British Columbia by a professor named Michael Norton. I learned about this study by watching a Ted Talk done by Professor Norton titled “How to Buy Happiness.”

Michael Norton Ted Talk: Money and Happiness – we often hear that money cannot make you happy, but it turns out that is wrong. The problem is what people tend to do with the money.

CNN did a study of people who won the lottery and discovered that it did not make people happy. In fact, it generally ruined their lives. They spent all the money, ended up deeply in debt, and it ruined their relationships.

Professor Norton did a study of his own, giving envelopes of money to random undergraduates at UBC. Each envelop had either a $5 or $20 bill in it and either instructions to spend the money on themselves (bill, expense, gift for themselves), or spend the money on someone else (charitable donation, gift for others).

When they followed up on this, the found something interesting. The people who spent the money on themselves reported that nothing happened. It didn’t make them any happier, but it didn’t make them any unhappier either. It basically had no effect. The people who spent the money on someone else all reported increased happiness. It didn’t matter how much money they got either. It didn’t matter how much money they got, it only mattered whether they spent it on themselves or someone else.

Experiment with sales teams in Belgium. Gave $15 to each member of some teams with instructions to spend the money on themselves. Gave same $15 to other teams with instructions to spend the money on another member of their team. The teams that spent the money on each other out-sold and out-performed the other team. In fact, the study was even able to quantify the return on investment for this experiment. For each $15 given to a team member who spent it on themselves, the return was a mere $4.50. Each $15 given to a team member to spend on their team-mates returned $78!

The punch line of the talk is, “If you think money can’t buy you happiness, you are just not spending it right.” But it isn’t about what you buy, it is about whether you spend the money on yourself or on someone else.

It doesn’t matter if you do a big thing or a little thing with your money. You could buy a meal for a hungry person or make a large donation to a worthy cause. It is not the size that matters. What matters is that you do something for someone else. That could be:

  • Pledging to support your congregation.
  • Feeding people with our Community Dinners and Tent City 3 meals programs
  • Supporting the Easter Outreach to create Easter baskets for women at a shelter for women fleeing violence and abuse
  • Supporting the youth with their 30 Hour Famine project to raise awareness and funds to fight hunger around the world
  • Finding another way to Pay-it-forward

When we do these things we are living by Gospel rules rather than the rules of our culture. The life that Jesus wants you to lose is the life that seeks comfort and happiness through buying more stuff and seeking more comforts for yourself.

  • The Gospel invites us to find our purpose in serving others rather than in accumulating goods.
  • The Gospel teaches us that by being a friend we gain new friends.
  • The Gospel teaches us that by loving others we gain more love ourselves.
  • The Gospel teaches us that by giving money to those in real need, we gain peace and joy and unexpected rewards.

“For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?” (Mark 8:36)

My message to you this week is go buy yourself some happiness.

The Rev. David Marshall
St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline WA
March 1, 2015

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