May 9, 2013 11:49 am

Happiness from giving to others may be a universal trait, say authors from UBC and Harvard

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that giving makes you happy.

Handout / Vancouver Sun

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that giving makes you happy.

Now, researchers from the University of B.C. and Harvard University say they may have evidence to back up that claim. Whether you buy your better half a concert ticket every now and again or take a friend on a trip, the research shows spending our money on others – even if we haven’t got much to spend – makes us feel good.

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The two researchers — Elizabeth Dunn, a UBC psychology professor, and Michael Norton, a marketing professor at Harvard Business School — analyzed data from Canada, India, South Africa and 136 other countries, and have compiled the information in a new book called Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending.

What they discovered was that people around the world, both rich and poor, experience emotional rewards when using their money to benefit others.

The evidence was so compelling that the authors 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, in a news release from UBC Thursday.

They have some useful tips that can help keep spending on others in check, not only to maximize satisfaction, but also to avoid emotional pitfalls such as buyer’s remorse.

“We tested this idea in poor countries where many of our participants reported having trouble meeting their basic needs,” said Dunn, in the release.

“And even in these relatively impoverished areas of the world we find people are happier when they spend money on others rather than themselves.”

Based on the research and findings from previous work, Dunn and Norton propose five tips:

1. Buy experiences – like trips, concerts and special meals that inoculate against buyer’s remorse.

2. Make it a treat – making daily habits into special indulgences increases satisfaction.

3. Buy time – before making a purchase, ask yourself, ‘How will this change how I use my time?’

4. Pay now, consume later – paying upfront and delaying consumption maximizes the pleasure of anticipation and reduces debt.

5. Invest in others – spending money on others provides a bigger happiness boost than spending on oneself.

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