Liz Weston: How to get more joy while giving to good causes

How to get more joy while giving to good causes

We may think spending money on ourselves will make us happier than spending it on someone else. That belief can make it hard to carve money out of our budgets to give to good causes.

But research shows that spending money on others is more likely to make us happy. This seems to be a worldwide phenomenon, and one that applies whether we have a lot of money or only a little.

“Generosity and happiness are pretty clearly linked in the research,” says Kristy Archuleta, a professor of financial planning at the University of Georgia. “When we are generous of our time, our talents, giving to others in whatever kind of capacity we can, we tend to be happier.”

Some generous acts create more positive feelings than others, however. Here’s what to consider if you want to maximize your happiness while helping others.


Canadian social psychologist Lara Aknin says she’s been interested in the emotional benefits of financial generosity since she was about 8 and daydreaming ways she could help other people.

“I remember thinking if I save $10, I could give it to my parents and they could go out for dinner,” she laughs. “I clearly had no concept of money (because) I thought $10 would give them an evening out on the town.”

As a graduate student, Aknin investigated ways money could improve well-being and found that “prosocial spending” — spending on others — was a source of happiness. In subsequent research, Aknin — now a distinguished associate professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia — determined that giving was most rewarding when it offered a social connection . Instead of sending someone a gift card to a restaurant, for example, we’ll feel happier if we take them out to dinner, Aknin says.

Volunteering can connect us with others, as can organizing or attending a fundraiser. Giving a group gift or donation is another way to up the social factor, Aknin says.


We also want to know that our giving matters. Being able to see or envision the change our contributions will make tends to increase our happiness, Aknin says.

In a 2013 study led by Aknin , participants were given a choice to donate to one of two charities dedicated to improving children’s health in impoverished areas: UNICEF and Spread the Net . Spread the Net offered a concrete example of a donation’s impact by specifying that every $10 given would buy a lifesaving mosquito net. UNICEF did not provide such details. Participants who donated to Spread the Net felt happier after their contribution, but those who gave to UNICEF did not, researchers found.”The more information we have about the positive impact of our gifts, the greater the emotional […]

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