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Prosocial Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal

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Author Info

  • Lara B. Aknin
  • Christopher P. Barrington-Leigh
  • Elizabeth W. Dunn
  • John F. Helliwell
  • Robert Biswas-Diener
  • Imelda Kemeza
  • Paul Nyende
  • Claire E. Ashton-James
  • Michael I. Norton

Abstract

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. To test for causality, we conduct experiments within two very different countries (Canada and Uganda) and show that spending money on others has a consistent, causal impact on happiness. 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.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16415.

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Date of creation: Sep 2010
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16415

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References

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  1. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell & Paul Frijters, 2004. "How Important is Methodology for the estimates of the determinants of Happiness?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(497), pages 641-659, 07.
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Cited by:
  1. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve & Ed Diener & Louis Tay & Cody Xuereb, 2013. "The Objective Benefits of Subjective Well-Being," CEP Discussion Papers dp1236, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  2. John F. Helliwell, 2011. "How Can Subjective Well-being Be Improved?," New Directions for Intelligent Government in Canada: Papers in Honour of Ian Stewart, in: Fred Gorbet & Andrew Sharpe (ed.), New Directions for Intelligent Government in Canada: Papers in Honour of Ian Stewart, pages 283-304 Centre for the Study of Living Standards.
  3. Lara Aknin & Elizabeth Dunn & Michael Norton, 2012. "Happiness Runs in a Circular Motion: Evidence for a Positive Feedback Loop between Prosocial Spending and Happiness," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 13(2), pages 347-355, April.
  4. John F. Helliwell, 2012. "Understanding and Improving the Social Context of Well-Being," NBER Working Papers 18486, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. John F. Helliwell & Shun Wang & Jinwen Xu, 2014. "How Durable are Social Norms? Immigrant Trust and Generosity in 132 Countries," NBER Working Papers 19855, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Tim Tiefenbach & Florian Kohlbacher, 2013. "Disentangling the Happiness Effects of Natural Disasters: The Mitigating Effects of Charitable Donations," DIJ Working Papers 1305, German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ), Business & Economics Section.
  7. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve & Ed Diener & Louis Tay & Cody Xuereb, 2013. "The objective benefits of subjective well-being," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 51669, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  8. Daniel M. Hungerman, 2011. "The Effect of Education on Religion: Evidence from Compulsory Schooling Laws," NBER Working Papers 16973, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Diane Reyniers & Richa Bhalla, 2013. "Reluctant altruism and peer pressure in charitable giving," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 8(1), pages 7-15, January.
  10. Monica Guillen-Royo & Laura Camfield & Jackeline Velazco, 2013. "Universal and Local Reconciled: Exploring Satisfaction with Universal and Local Goals in Thailand and Bangladesh," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 113(2), pages 627-645, September.
  11. Andrew E. Clark & Conchita D'Ambrosio, 2014. "Attitudes to Income Inequality: Experimental and Survey Evidence," PSE Working Papers halshs-00967938, HAL.
  12. Binder, Martin & Freytag, Andreas, 2013. "Volunteering, subjective well-being and public policy," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 34(C), pages 97-119.
  13. Kettner , Sara Elisa & Ceccato , Smarandita, 2014. "Framing Matters in Gender-Paired Dictator Games," Working Papers 0557, University of Heidelberg, Department of Economics.

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