Study: The Joy of Giving Lasts Longer than the Joy of Receiving

December 28, 2018 at 2:31 pm

It actually is more blessed to give than receive!

Humans feel happier when we give than when we get, researchers from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University find.

The researchers from both universities conducted separate expertiments and found the same results: The joy of giving lasted longer than the joy of receiving.

“The happiness we feel after a particular event or activity diminishes each time we experience that event, a phenomenon known as hedonic adaptation. But giving to others may be the exception to this rule,” the researchers write in a press release about their study.

In the first experiment, 96 college student participants were given $5 each day for five days. Some of the participants were told to spend the money on themselves, while the rest were told to spend it on others — charity, the homeless, a friend, or even a tip jar.

Participants self-reported at the end of each day how they felt about the money they had spent, and how they rated their overall happiness.

The results of the daily spending challenge showed a clear pattern. While participants began with very similar levels of happiness, the students who had spent money on themselves felt decreasingly happy over the five-day period. 

Conversely, participants who gave their money to someone else, however, continued to feel the same level of joy on the fifth day as they did on the first day.

In the second experiment, 502 participants played 10 rounds of a word puzzle game online. For each round won, they earned a nickel, which they could either keep or donate to a favorite charity. Participants self-reported after each round the degree of joy they felt from winning.

As in the first experiment, those who gave their winnings to others retained higher levels of happiness for longer periods than those who kept their winnings for themselves.

The researchers think there might be an explanation: When we focus on outcomes, like getting paid, we are in comparison mode. This makes us lose out on the subtle feelings of each individual experience and leads to a feeling of “never enough.”

On the other hand, each act of giving removes the comparison aspect and so has a fresh, new feel every time.

“If you want to sustain happiness over time, past research tells us that we need to take a break from what we’re currently consuming and experience something new,” says study co-author Ed O’Brien, of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

 “Our research reveals that the kind of thing may matter more than assumed: Repeated giving, even in identical ways to identical others, may continue to feel relatively fresh and relatively pleasurable the more that we do it.”

The findings will be published in The journal Psychological Science.