Would it make you happier if you spent $5 on yourself or on a friend? When University of British Columbia researcher Elizabeth Dunn asked this question to a group of research subjects, she found that most people thought they’d be happier buying something for themselves. Her now-famous research study proved them wrong.
Dunn and Colleagues gave a group of undergrads a small amount of money ($5 or $20) and then assigned them to one of two groups: spend the money on yourself or on someone else. At the end of the day she measured everyone’s level of happiness, and found that the people who spent on someone else were significantly happier than those who spent on themselves, thus proving scientifically what fans of A Christmas Carol have known all along: that it truly is better to give than to receive! Better still, it didn’t matter if it was $5 or $20 – the happiness boost was the same either way.
Last week, we asked you to phone a long-lost friend and catch up. Today, we want you to get together with a not-so-long-lost friend or work colleague and buy them a little something.
A note to our cash-conscious readers: it turns out Elizabeth’s office is just down the street from us, and we were fortunate enough to meet with her for lunch and talk about her research. After we insisted on paying (natch), she let us in on a little secret: it turns out that spending money isn’t the magic ingredient to happiness after all. Her more recent research is showing that, perhaps not surprisingly, only people who spent the money in the presence of the other person showed a boost in happiness. Writing a check and popping it in the mail did nothing, nada, zilch for their happiness.
In other words it’s not spending money on others that makes us happy, it’s spending time with others! So if these tough economic times are taking a bite out of your budget, give your friend a call and offer to go for a walk, play a game of Boggle, or just sit back and enjoy each other’s company. And if you want to buy them a sardine or two, that’s just a bonus.