Friday, April 4, 2008

Promoting happiness

Last December I wrote a short post about a Science paper providing neurophysiological evidence for the importance of social comparison on reward processing in the human brain. The last print version of Science has a paper teaching us how we can be even happier.

Elizabeth W. Dunn and Lara B. Aknin of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, and Michael I. Norton of the Harvard Business School in Boston write in their paper Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness that although much research has examined the effect of income on happiness, they suggest that how people spend their money may be at least as important as how much money they earn.

Specifically, they hypothesize that spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself. Providing converging evidence for this hypothesis, they found that spending more of one's income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). Finally, participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.

They conclude that given that people appear to overlook the benefits of prosocial spending, policy interventions that promote prosocial spending — encouraging people to invest income in others rather than in themselves — may be worthwhile in the service of translating increased national wealth into increased national happiness.

The United States Declaration of Independence already postulates a right to pursue happiness, and the IRS encourages charitable donations by allowing a generous tax deduction for them, so our Government has already made the correct policy interventions. Now, when I look at my bank transactions for March, I am convinced I must be the happiest person in the world!

bringing gifts