People around the world, with both modest and comfortable incomes, reported being happier when they spent money on others than on themselves, say University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School professors who have popularized their findings in a new book, Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending.
Elizabeth Dunn, a UBC psychology professor, and Michael Norton, a marketing professor at Harvard Business School, have built on earlier studies to compile rare global evidence that people around the world experience emotional rewards from using their money to benefit others. New studies in Canada, India and South Africa, and analysis of data from 136 other countries provided new insights for their book.
“We tested this idea in poor countries where many of our participants reported having trouble meeting their basic needs,” said Dunn. “And even in these relatively impoverished areas of the world we find people are happier when they spend money on others rather than themselves.”
Given that it’s rare to find such global evidence, Dunn and Norton believe they may have found a psychologically universal human trait.
“The reward experienced from helping others may be deeply ingrained in human nature and be present in diverse cultural contexts,” said Norton.
Based on the research and findings from related work, Dunn and Norton propose five core principles:
- Buy experiences – like trips, concerts and special meals that inoculate against buyer’s remorse.
- Make it a treat – making daily habits into special indulgences increases satisfaction.
- Buy time – before making a purchase, ask yourself, “How will this change how I use my time?”.
- Pay now, consume later – paying up-front and delaying consumption maximizes the pleasure of anticipation and reduces debt.
- Invest in others – spending money on others provides a bigger happiness boost than spending on oneself.