The Science of Generosity
A study published last month by Harvard Business School looked at the emotional benefits of generosity, and found that — across cultures — people are happiest when they are giving.
“In contrast to traditional economic thought—which places self-interest as the guiding principle of human motivation—our findings suggest that the reward experienced from helping others may be deeply ingrained in human nature, emerging in diverse cultural and economic contexts,” the authors wrote.
Decades of research (dating back to Darwin) have suggested that altruism allowed humans to evolve and survive in groups, cooperating for mutual survival. The new study argues that this is not an isolated phenomenon, but may be universal.
The study states: “This research provides the first support for a possible psychological universal: human beings around the world derive emotional benefits from using their financial resources to help others (prosocial spending). Analyzing survey data from 136 countries, we show that prosocial spending is consistently associated with greater happiness.”
Across countries and through various income levels, researchers found that subjects who spent more money on gifts and charitable donations described themselves as happier. The benefits of prosocial spending were not necessarily related to how often or how much a person gave, but were strongly tied to the fact that a person gave something. Researchers asked university students in Uganda and Canada to reflect on times they spent money on themselves or on others, in order to compare across countries with different income and cultural norms. Participants asked to recall money spent on others, rather than themselves, on the whole reported significantly higher “subjective well-being.”
What do you think about these findings? Do they fit your experience?