Spending Money Versus Happiness Essay

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Perhaps the Beatles were right that a diamond ring can’t buy (me) love. But giving gifts – altruistic spending –might be able to buy happiness. While there is strong evidence for the weak effect of income on happiness, recent research suggests that by spending money on others, human beings can play an active role in their happiness, improving it on the daily level.
In a 2008 study, researchers Dunn, Aknin and Norton attempted to identify “whether and how disposable income might be used to increase happiness” (Dunn, et al., 2008). Their study used three tests to prove that spending money on others is key. First, the researchers asked a nationally representative sample of Americans to quantify their happiness and then to estimate how much money they spend on what -- which the researchers divided into two categories: prosocial spending (charity donations or gifts) and personal spending. The data demonstrated that personal spending was unrelated to happiness, but higher prosocial spending was correlated to higher happiness. Based on this initial evidence, the researchers predicted that people who received an “economic windfall” and spent it prosocially would feel happier than those who spent the money on themselves. The second experiment measured happiness amongst employees before and after they received a bonus. Those who bought things for others with their bonus experienced greater happiness after receiving the bonus, and (amazingly) what they spent it on impacted their happiness more than the size of the bonus itself. After these two experiments, the researchers still needed to prove the causal nature of this correlation. Participants in the final study were given either $5 or $20 and asked to spend it that day. Some were randomly assigned to spend the money on a gift for themselves or on a bill, and some were assigned to spend the money on a charitable gift or a present for someone else. The participants reported their happiness before being given the...

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