Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 347-355

First online:

Happiness Runs in a Circular Motion: Evidence for a Positive Feedback Loop between Prosocial Spending and Happiness

  • Lara B. AkninAffiliated withPsychology Department, University of British Columbia Email author 
  • , Elizabeth W. DunnAffiliated withPsychology Department, University of British Columbia
  • , Michael I. NortonAffiliated withMarketing Department, Harvard Business School

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We examine whether a positive feedback loop exists between spending money on others (i.e. prosocial spending) and happiness. Participants recalled a previous purchase made for either themselves or someone else and then reported their happiness. Afterward, participants chose whether to spend a monetary windfall on themselves or someone else. Participants assigned to recall a purchase made for someone else reported feeling significantly happier immediately after this recollection; most importantly, the happier participants felt, the more likely they were to choose to spend a windfall on someone else in the near future. Thus, by providing initial evidence for a positive feedback loop between prosocial spending and well-being, these data offer one potential path to sustainable happiness: prosocial spending increases happiness which in turn encourages prosocial spending.


Happiness Well-being Money Prosocial spending Sustainability Feedback loop