Giving Increases Happiness

When Warren Buffett pledged 99% of his wealth in 2006 he stated in his pledge letter that he ‘couldn’t be happier with that decision’. This feeling also bares scientific ground as research has shown that financial generosity/pro-social spending may indeed promote happiness and provide hedonistic benefits. New research however shows that the same benefits apply to countries where economic resources are scarce, making the correlation/principle universal and not exclusive to relatively wealthy nations.

Reports about the benefits of giving/pro-social spending (which is not limited to donating to charity but also includes buying gifts and coffees for for example family and friends) and happiness are not uncommon and something we have written about before. The research conducted up until now however was mostly concentrated on richer nations. This research is particularly focused at whether the correlation between giving and emotional benefits, such as happiness, holds with poorer countries too, and thus assesses whether the principle is universal. Some interesting observations:

  • Evolutionist theorist believe that philanthropic behavior was the foundation of large scale social cooperation, which enabled early human kind to thrive. Philanthropic behavior therefore played a critical role in our evolutionary past.
  • Giving/pro-social spending and well-being is universally functional, as core mental attributes are shared among all humans. However there are cultural differences affecting the manifestation of social spending.
  • Other benefits include new and enhanced social relationships and experiences.

To assess whether giving provides benefits to people world wide, they used various methods, which included a correlation study and experimental study focused on three economically diverse countries being Canada, Uganda and India. They assessed whether pro-social spending has a consistent and causal impact on happiness in these three economically diverse countries.

The conclusion is clear. Evolutionary theory suggests that the emotional benefits achieved through giving evolved to encourage pro-social behavior and thus survival of human kind. Short term ‘costs’ outweigh the long term benefits. The research further found that the emotional benefit achieved by sharing financial resources is universal, even in countries were financial resources are scarce. While this research exploring the universality of the giving/happiness principle, the correlation between giving happiness remains a complex psychological phenomenon which requires further research. Check out all the findings here.



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