Through science, I have learned that you can buy happiness by buying experiences and spending your money on others. For many years, I have made it a habit to carry a $100 bill in my wallet and when I feel prompted, give it away.
One of my most memorable experiences was while my wife and daughter and I were on a trip along the Carolina/Georgia coast. We were having dinner at a quaint corner cafe in a college area near Charleston. Most of the employees were college students.
While we were eating, one of the waitresses stopped just feet from our table and said in distress “Oh no! Someone stole my bike!” She had chained her bike to a lamp post right in front of the cafe and someone had cut her lock and walked off with her bike in broad daylight (we later learned a common problem in this area).
Seeing this opportunity for my hidden surprise, I got her attention and let her know that while there are people that steal things, there are others that try to make things better. I asked her if I could make a donation toward getting a new bike and gave her the $100 bill.
This turned a bad experience into something very different. It didn’t solve the whole problem, but it changed the experience in a positive way.
Surprisingly, the thing I remember most is not the reaction of the girl who lost her bike, but the reaction of our own waitress. She just couldn’t stop talking about hearing about things like this, but had never seen it first hand. I felt like a celebrity. I keep a copy of the note she left on our receipt to remind me of this experience.
Now, more than four years later, I still remember this experience which was amazing for me. I am certain that I can’t remember many things I spent $100 on this many years ago, but I will remember this for the rest of my life. Fortunately, $5 can buy a similar experience because of the relative unusualness of this kind of “intentional kindness”. These small experiences can create lifetime memories and doses happiness.