Give away your money, feel happier?

Give away your money, feel happier?
Even on a small scale, being generous creates a sense of wealth, study finds.

(HealthDay)—Having pots of money doesn't necessarily make you happy, study after study has found. But giving away money—even if you're not rich—is likely to make you feel wealthier, and thus happier, new research contends.

It sounds counterintuitive, but it's not, said study author Michael Norton, an associate professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, who presented his findings from a series of new studies Saturday at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and in New Orleans.

"One of the ways signal they are wealthy is to give away," Norton said. So he did the studies to find out what happens when those who aren't rich give money away.

Turns out, giving away money increases what experts call feelings of "subjective wealth," or how well off you feel. The thinking, said Norton, goes something like this: "If I have so much money that I can give it away, I may not be so bad off."

"We suggest that acts of can also signal wealth to the givers themselves, making them feel subjectively wealthier even as money leaves their pockets," he and his colleagues wrote.

The donations also seem to increase the donor's sense of power, according to Norton, and that may lead them to feel happier, because the donations "fulfill a deeper desire to signal wealth."

Norton didn't ask people in this new research about pleasure they felt in by giving money. "But some of our earlier research suggests that people do, in fact, glean from being pro-social," he said.

For one study, Norton used data from a Gallup World Poll. Participants were asked to report how they had spent a windfall of money in the past year. They were asked what percent they gave to charity and how they felt about their .

In all, 559 of the more than 2,000 people surveyed had received a windfall. After excluding three "outliers" who received more than $1 million, the average windfall amount was $1,500. Of those, 99 said they donated about 3 percent of the money to charity.

Norton asked questions to assess subjective wealth. Even when he compensated for income, donations predicted better feelings of subjective wealth.

Giving $500, he calculated, has the same effect on feelings of subjective wealth as earning an extra $10,000 in income.

In related research, Norton found that people who volunteer their time to help sick children or for other charitable pursuits feel they have more time than those who don't volunteer. The thinking, he suspects, is that if they have time to give away, they must have plenty of time.

"To me this is interesting because it is counterintuitive," said James Maddux, professor emeritus in the department of psychology at George Mason University.

The driving force for feeling wealthier after donating, Maddux agreed, is the perception of wealth. "I think it's the sense that if I have enough money to afford to give some away, I must be better off than I thought I was," he said.

"People may feel more satisfied with life when they feel wealthier," he added.

The new research also ties in to other studies finding that people are always measuring themselves against others, Maddux said. "What seems to matter psychologically to people is not objectively what money they have—but what they have, what they own, compared to other people."

Data and conclusions from the studies should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Explore further

Surprising connections between our well-being and giving, getting, and gratitude

More information: To learn more about money and happiness, visit the American Psychological Association.

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Jan 21, 2013
Does anyone find this counter intuitive? It seems obvious to me, if you feel you must keep your money to yourself, it is because you feel financially insecure. If you feel you can give it away, it is because you feel you can spare money.

Jan 21, 2013
The ex must have felt like a millionaire . The time that I volunteer is a commitment not because I feel I have free time .

Jan 21, 2013
It is only 'not' counter intuitive because most other notions people hold are also counter intuitive. In other words, what seems 'unreasonable' is only true because so many other concepts are so bass-ackwards in people's minds.
If you hold irrational ideas about what makes you 'good' or what makes you have self-worth, then giving away your money will make you 'feel' better. And of course feelings are what is most important, to hell with that 'reality' crap right? Notions of altruistic 'duty-to-others' and self-sacrificing nonsense have been proliferated by our society for a long long time. (this is mostly because without such notions being seen as virtuous, others can't control you or otherwise get you to obey)
If you properly define what constitutes value, moral and ethical behavior and self-esteem, it is not necessary to give away all you have to 'feel' whole again. You can then be charitable when it is actually worthwhile to be such.

Jan 21, 2013
Does anyone find this counter intuitive? It seems obvious to me, if you feel you must keep your money to yourself, it is because you feel financially insecure. If you feel you can give it away, it is because you feel you can spare money.

Seeing as there are plenty of people who do have a lot - but still are unhappy or strive maniacally for more - there definitely are people whose intuition fails them in this.

Jan 21, 2013
Money is a grand fiction, and a minor component to happiness.

Those who fixate on it are invariably shallow, unhappy and unfulfilled.

Jan 21, 2013
I've spent my 65 years learning the lessons that poverty has to teach me. I'd like to spend the remainder learning the lessons that wealth has to teach. All it takes is one really good lotto ticket to do the job... And if wealth is as 'bad' as some say; I can always spend it all or give it away and enjoy a 'happy poverty' once again.

(tongue firmly in cheek; but never in check)

Jan 22, 2013
"Charity" - concept invented by those with the most resources to satisfy their conscience when faced with those in poverty. Also see... "work ethic", "free will", "pulling oneself up by bootstraps", "American Dream", etc.

"Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary." -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Jan 22, 2013
I think the self help gurus had this truism pinned down quite some time ago...

Jan 22, 2013
Giving $500, he calculated, has the same effect on feelings of subjective wealth as earning an extra $10,000 in income.

Of course it makes you happy. How else do you solve the stinging cognitive dissonance that you just tossed away $500 even though you yoursef are poor?

The less you have, the better you have to justify your spending - but when you have no justification you have to make some sort of excuse to avoid the painful realization that you just did something very dumb. So you become happy, or you invent a temporary lie that you can afford to give away $500 because you're wealthy.

These feelings are post-hoc reactions to the contradiction of your irrational actions and your self-image of being a rational wise person who is in control of themselves. You become happy to think that you did it to become happy.

It's like laughter after spinning your car on ice at 70 mph and somehow ending back on the road the right way around. If you didn't laugh, you'd be crying

Jan 22, 2013
"Giving $500, he calculated, has the same effect on feelings of subjective wealth as earning an extra $10,000 in income"


Everytime I get a payrise I smile with glee. Everytime some charity mugger tries to get money off me I end up in a foul mood all day.

Just sounds like propaganda to me. Governments want people to spend money to kickstart the markets again, but people are saving instead. So lo and behold, a massive turnout of "scientific" papers appear stating how throwing money away makes you feel good and is the better option.

I know very few depressed rich people. I have seen plenty of very depressed and successful suidical people due to being poor.

As I stated before, utter bullshit. This may be true of people who have considerable disposable incomes, where $10k is probably just a 1% payrise, but for someone who earns $1k a month, giving $500 away would put me on the dark cold streets, I would not be happy.

Jan 22, 2013
Money is a grand fiction, and a minor component to happiness.

Those who fixate on it are invariably shallow, unhappy and unfulfilled.

Jan 22, 2013
Here is a case where the people commenting on the article are better educated than the people that did this weird study and the author that wrote the article.

The claims made in this study/article are utterly ridiculous as so many others have pointed out. Feeling wealthier doesn't mean anything and giving away money is a horrible set up for bad credit and terrible debt.
I am an animal advocate, there are so many shelters and animal care facilities that I could give all my money away to but I don't because I simply can't afford it. I do other things to do my part to alleviate the suffering of animals. It never seems like enough because the needs are so great in our world but it means something to each animal that I can help. Throwing money at things doesn't actually solve problems especially if I'm throwing money I don't really have to give.

That really is a bullshit study.

Jan 23, 2013
A rich person gave me 1/5. I have noticed the only people who ever say "money doesn't bring happiness" or "money isn't everything" are usually rolling around in vast swathes of disposable income. I have health, I have friends, I have a lovely wife and a very nice life. My only issue, literally, is money, that is the only thing that ever troubles me, because I have a severe lack of it. Winning the lottery I literally would be ESTATIC. I wouldn't give a penny of it away either. Maybe this study simply shows how mathematically incapable most people are, and why we're in debt. The study basically says people who cant afford to spend money feel better spending money. Sounds exactly the reason why we're all in debt-spending what we dont have, aka, mathematical stupidity. I won't feel wealthier giving money away because I have a grasp of very basic subtraction in maths. If I give away $500 I am $500 poorer, If I get $10k I am $10k richer. Study should be "people are crap at maths"

Feb 01, 2013
What gives the energy of our actions? The desire to get a pleasure! Since the capacity (size) of desire to get pleasure depends the size of fun. Selfish desire is self-limited, and so is the pleasure experienced by the limit. When our desire is to meet other needs – limit of selfish desire disappears, respectively, increases the perceived limits of pleasure. However, the desire to position our limited capabilities. Intention to give pleasure to others - not limited at all!

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