Monday, July 15, 2019

'Tis Better to Give Than To Receive

We've always heard the wise old adage, "It is better to give than to receive." Scholars Ed O’Brien and Samantha Kassirer (from University of Chicago and Northwestern respectively) set out to test this piece of advice empirically.   The researchers designed a simple experiment.    They provided their research subjects (college students) $5 per day for five straigth days.  They told 50% of the students to spend the money on themselves.  They directed the others to give the money to others each day.  The scholars asked the students to respond to a questionnaire each night, evaluating their happiness.  As you can see in the chart below, the "givers" maintained a high level of happiness throughout the week.  Meanwhile, the "receivers" began the week almost equally as happy as the "givers" in this study.  However, the receivers experienced a substantial decline in happiness as the week progressed.  

Source:  Chicago Booth Review
How do the scholars explain the results displayed above?   Alice Walton summarizes one of their explanations in her article for Chicago Booth Review:

The phenomenon may have to do with someone’s vantage point, the researchers suggest. When we receive money or goods repeatedly, it’s easy to compare the results and become acclimated to them. In fact, research over several decades has explored “hedonic adaptation,” a theory of happiness that suggests people quickly become accustomed to good things and return to their original happiness level.   But giving seems to work differently, suggest O’Brien and Kassirer. When people give, the endpoint isn’t always apparent, therefore comparison—and acclimation—aren’t as likely. As they write, “The happiness we get from giving appears to sustain itself.”

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