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

27 Pages Posted: 4 Oct 2010 Last revised: 10 May 2018

See all articles by Lara B. Aknin

Lara B. Aknin

University of British Columbia

Christopher Barrington-Leigh

McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy

Elizabeth W. Dunn

University of British Columbia - Department of Psychology

John F. Helliwell

University of British Columbia (UBC) - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Robert Biswas-Diener

University of Warwick - Centre for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP)

Imelda Kemeza

Mbarara University of Science and Technology - Educational Foundations and Psychology

Paul Nyende

Makerere University

Claire E. Ashton-James

University of Groningen - Department of Social and Organizational Psychology

Michael I. Norton

Harvard Business School - Marketing Unit

Date Written: September 2010

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.

Suggested Citation

Aknin, Lara B. and Barrington-Leigh, Christopher and Dunn, Elizabeth W. and Helliwell, John F. and Biswas-Diener, Robert and Kemeza, Imelda and Nyende, Paul and Ashton-James, Claire E. and Norton, Michael I., Prosocial Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal (September 2010). NBER Working Paper No. w16415. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1685722

Lara B. Aknin (Contact Author)

University of British Columbia ( email )

2136 West Mall
Vancouver, British Columbia BC V6T 1Z4
Canada

Christopher Barrington-Leigh

McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy

Charles Meredith House
1130 Pine Avenue West
Montreal, Quebec H3A1A3
Canada

HOME PAGE: http://barrington-leigh.net/address

Elizabeth W. Dunn

University of British Columbia - Department of Psychology ( email )

2329 West Mall
Vancouver, British Columbia BC V6T 1Z4
Canada

John F. Helliwell

University of British Columbia (UBC) - Department of Economics ( email )

997-1873 East Mall
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z1
Canada
604-822-4953 (Phone)
604-822-5915 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Robert Biswas-Diener

University of Warwick - Centre for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) ( email )

The Venture Centre
Sir William Lyons Road
West Midlands, Coventry CV4 7EZ
United Kingdom

Imelda Kemeza

Mbarara University of Science and Technology - Educational Foundations and Psychology ( email )

P.O BOX 1410
Mbarara
Uganda

Paul Nyende

Makerere University ( email )

P.O.Box 7062
Kampala
Uganda

Claire E. Ashton-James

University of Groningen - Department of Social and Organizational Psychology ( email )

Grote Kruisstraat 2/1
9700 AH Groningen
Netherlands

Michael I. Norton

Harvard Business School - Marketing Unit ( email )

Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
38
Abstract Views
3,601
PlumX Metrics