It’s better to give than receive is one of those platitudes that makes us roll our eyes. The main reason is that we don’t know if it’s actually true or why our lives are enriched by the act of giving. People say it, and we nod along because we don’t want to seem like a jerk if we disagree.
It turns out that there is data supporting this cliche. It is better to give than to receive because it makes us happier. The proof is in the science, and there are studies with findings that will intrigue you.
Let’s take a look.
Spend it on Someone Else
Back in 2018, The University of Chicago Booth School of Business put gift-giving to the test by conducting an experiment that asked: How would their own college students spend money that was handed to them, and how would this affect their levels of happiness? 96 students were randomly assigned to spend $5 every day for five days on themselves or someone else.
Given the title of this blog post, it won’t surprise you that those who left tips or made online donations with the money reported feeling happier than those who took the money and ran.
Not to be outdone by its regional rival, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management saw U of C’s 96 participants and raised them 406. In this experiment, the university worked with 502 individuals and had them play ten rounds of an online puzzle game, in which they earned 5 cents per round. Just like the other experiment, the subjects had the option of keeping their money or donating it.
Here again, those who gave said they felt happier compared to those who didn’t.
Giving Also Can Make You Healthier
We don’t know how long those study participants sustained their levels of happiness, but there’s evidence suggesting that ongoing giving is good for your health. Who knew?
This guy does. Philippe Tobler, author of the Swiss Study, A Neutral Link Between Generosity and Happiness, reports that people who give have better health. “Moreover, there is a positive association between helping others and life expectancy,” he says, “perhaps because helping others reduces stress.”
Does Receiving Make You Happy?
It does, but apparently any “new” happiness is short-lived and you return to baseline. In psychology this is referred to as The Hedonic Treadmill, when people return to a stable state of happiness following positive or negative events.
For example, if you receive a gift basket from a well-reputed specialty retailer in Northbrook, you’ll certainly feel a lift. However, once the contents are consumed, you’ll likely revert back to your initial happiness state. You can always feel more elevated by paying it forward and surprising someone with the same or similar item.
By the way, there’s nothing wrong with accepting and savoring gifts. Knowing that there’s a reward on the horizon gives you something to look forward to, and receiving an unexpected gift feels great. But you can’t argue with the strong connection between giving and happiness.