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

  • 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

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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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w16415.pdf
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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
Note: PE POL
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  1. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell & Paul Frijters, 2002. "How important is Methodology for the Estimates of the Determinants of Happiness?," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 02-024/3, Tinbergen Institute.
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