Can Money Buy Us Happiness?

Can Money Buy Us Happiness? Research shows that it can, but under one condition – when it is spent on others. In one experiment (Dunn et al., 2008) participants were given a $5 or $20 bill and told either to spend it on others or to buy something for themselves. Those who spent the money on other people were happier than those who spent it on themselves.

In another study (Aknin et al., 2013), participants in Canada and South Africa randomly assigned to buy items for charity reported higher levels of positive affect than participants assigned to buy the same items for themselves, even when this prosocial spending did not provide an opportunity to build or strengthen social ties. Prosocial spending seems to be a cross-cultural, psychological universal. Human beings around the world derive emotional benefits from using their financial resources to help others. Survey data from 136 countries shows that prosocial spending is associated with greater happiness around the world, in poor and rich countries alike. Thus, the reward experienced from helping others may be deeply ingrained in human nature, emerging in diverse cultural and economic contexts.

In this activity, organised by DIS – a study abroad institute in Denmark in cooperation with the Psychology Department at UNYP, the objectives were to apply the theory of altruism and well-being in an experiential intervention and explore the potential positive effects of pro-social spending. Students from different American universities as well as UNYP engaged in this activity. Students came up with many creative ways of spending money on others in the local community to increase happiness both in the recipients and the performers of these “acts of kindness.”  

One guideline for the students was to seek a situation where there is a need. For example, if someone appeared to be sad, students would give the person a flower and a smile.  If someone looked cold, they would give her a hot tea. People on a bench who seemed a bit “under the weather” at Náměstí Míru were given chalk and were asked to express something happy and creative. Soon everyone cheered up and felt a sense of community as they drew flowers and hearts on the stone plaza before them.  The activity concluded back at UNYP with a lively discussion led by Dr. Salman Ahmad.


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