Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 347–355 | Cite as

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

  • Lara B. Aknin
  • Elizabeth W. Dunn
  • Michael I. Norton
Article

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Happiness Well-being Money Prosocial spending Sustainability Feedback loop 

References

  1. Aknin, L. B., Barrington-Leigh, C. P., Dunn, E. W., Helliwell, J. F., Biswas-Diener, R., Kemeza, I., et al. (2011a). Prosocial spending and well-being: Cross-cultural evidence for a psychological universal. (Manuscript under review).Google Scholar
  2. Aknin, L. B., Sandstrom, G. M., Dunn, E. W., & Norton, M. I. (2011b). Putting the “social” in prosocial spending: Social contact as a catalyst for turning good deeds into good feelings. (Manuscript in preparation).Google Scholar
  3. Carter, T., & Gilovich, T. (2010). The relative relativity of experiential and material purchases. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 146–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cohn, M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (in press). In search of durable positive psychology interventions: Predictors and consequences of long-term positive behavior change. Journal of Positive Psychology.Google Scholar
  5. Diener, E., Lucas, R. E., Schimmack, U., & Helliwell, J. F. (2009). Well-being for Public Policy (pp. 95–118). New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319, 1687–1688.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dunn, E. W., Ashton-James, C., Hanson, M. D., & Aknin, L. B. (2010). On the costs of self-interested economic behavior: How does stinginess get under the skin? Journal of Health Psychology, 15, 627–633.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Frederick, S., & Loewenstein, G. (1999). Hedonic adaptation. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology (pp. 302–329). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  10. Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of General Psychology, 2, 300–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Helliwell, J. F. (2002). How’s life? Combining individual and national variables to explain subjective well-being. National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. W9065.Google Scholar
  13. Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010a). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33, 61–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Henrich, J., Heine, S., & Norenzayan, A. (2010b). Most people are not WEIRD. Nature, 466, 29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Isen, A. M. (1970). Success, failure, attention and reaction to others: The warm glow of success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 15, 294–301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Isen, A. M., & Levin, P. F. (1972). Effect of feeling good on helping: Cookies and kindness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 21, 384–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lucas, R. E. (2005). Time does not heal all wounds: A longitudinal study of reaction and adaptation to divorce. Psychological Science, 16, 945–950.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lucas, R. E. (2007). Long-term disability is associated with lasting changes in subjective well-being: evidence from two nationally representative longitudinal studies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 717–730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lucas, R. E., Clark, A. E., Georgellis, Y., & Diener, E. (2003). Re-examining adaptation and the set point model of happiness: Reactions to changes in marital status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 527–539.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lucas, R. E., Clark, A. E., Georgellis, Y., & Diener, E. (2004). Unemployment alters the set point for life satisfaction. Psychological Science, 15, 8–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lykken, D., & Tellegen, A. (1996). Happiness is a stochastic phenomenon. Psychological Science, 7, 186–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lyubomirsky, S., & Lepper, H. S. (1999). A measure of subjective happiness: Preliminary reliability and construct validation. Social Indicators Research, 46, 137–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9, 111–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. MacKinnon, D. P., Lockwood, C. M., Hoffman, J. M., West, S. G., & Sheets, V. (2002). A comparison of methods to test mediation and other intervening variable effects. Psychological Methods, 7, 83–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. MacKinnon, D. P., Fritz, M. S., Williams, J., & Lockwood, C. M. (2007). Distribution of the product confidence limits for the indirect effect: Program PRODCLIN. Behavior Research Methods, 39, 384–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McClintock, C. G. (1978). Social values: Their definition, measurement, and development. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 12, 121–137.Google Scholar
  27. Merritt, A. C., Effron, D. A., & Monin, B. (2010). Moral self-licensing: When being good frees us to be bad. Social Personality Psychology Compass, 4(5), 344–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Nelson, L. D., & Norton, M. I. (2005). From student to superhero: Situational primes shape future helping. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41, 423–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Strack, F., Schwarz, N., & Gschneidinger, E. (1985). Happiness and reminiscing: The role of time perspective, affect and mode of thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 1460–1469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Van Boven, L., & Gilovich, T. (2003). To do or to have? That is the question. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 1193–1202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Van Lange, P. A. M., Otten, W., De Bruin, E. M. N., & Joireman, J. A. (1997). Development of prosocial, individualistic, and competitive orientations: Theory and preliminary evidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 733–746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lara B. Aknin
    • 1
  • Elizabeth W. Dunn
    • 1
  • Michael I. Norton
    • 2
  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.Marketing DepartmentHarvard Business SchoolBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations