The joy of giving lasts longer than the joy of getting

Repeated giving, even in identical ways to identify others, may continue to feel relatively fresh and relatively pleasurable.


The bliss we feel after a specific event or activity diminishes each time we experience that event, a phenomenon is known as a hedonic adaption. Yet, providing for others might be the special case to this standard, suggests a new study.

Scientists found that participants’ happiness did not decline, or declined much slower if they repeatedly bestowed gifts on others versus repeatedly receiving those same gifts themselves.

Ed O’Brien (University of Chicago Booth School of Business) said, “If you want to sustain happiness over time, past research tells us that we need to take a break from what we’re currently consuming and experience something new. Our research reveals that the kind of thing may matter more than assumed: Repeated giving, even in identical ways to identify others, may continue to feel relatively fresh and relatively pleasurable the more that we do it.”

In one experiment, university student participants received $5 every day for 5 days; they were required to spend the money on the exact same thing each time. The researchers randomly assigned participants to spend the money either on themselves or on someone else, such as by leaving money in a tip jar at the same café or making an online donation to the same charity every day. The participants reflected on their spending experience and overall happiness at the end of each day.

The information, from a sum of 96 members, demonstrated a clear example: Participants began off with comparable dimensions of self-reported happiness and the individuals who spent cash on themselves revealed an unfaltering decrease in satisfaction over the 5-day time span. Be that as it may, joy did not appear to blur for the individuals who gave their cash to another person. The delight from giving for the fifth time in succession was similarly as solid as it was toward the beginner.

O’Brien and Kassirer then led a second investigation on the web, which enabled them to keep the tasks consistent across participants. In this test, 502 members played 10 rounds of a word puzzle game. They won $0.05 per round, which they either kept or gave to a charity of their decision. After each round, members unveiled how much winning made them feel cheerful, elated, and blissful.

Again, the self-reported happiness of those who gave their winnings away declined far more slowly than did the happiness reported by those who kept their winnings.

Further analyses ruled out some potential alternative explanations, such as the possibility that participants who gave to others had to think longer and harder about what to give, which could promote higher happiness.

O’Brien said, “We considered many such possibilities, and measured over a dozen of them. None of them could explain our results; there were very few incidental differences between ‘get’ and ‘give’ conditions, and the key difference in happiness remained unchanged when controlling for these other variables in the analyses.”

The researchers note that when people focus on an outcome, such as getting paid, they can easily compare outcomes, which diminishes their sensitivity to each experience. When people focus on an action, such as donating to a charity, they may focus less on the comparison and instead experience each act of giving as a unique happiness-inducing event.

We may also be slower to adapt to happiness generated by giving because giving to others helps us maintain our prosocial reputation, reinforcing our sense of social connection and belonging.

O’Brien explained, “Right now we’re testing repeated conversation and social experiences, which also may get better rather than worse over time.”

The study published in a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

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