“Most people by their nature are very generous, yet they don’t think clearly about the choices they make when they donate to charity,” according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal.
“For example, they may donate less than they otherwise would, because they assume that giving will make them less happy than receiving. The fact is that studies show the opposite: When we’re generous and spend on others, we feel happier and more fulfilled.”
Greater Happiness Donating to a Charity
The Journal article cited research by Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia, Lara Aknin at Simon Fraser University and Michael Norton at Harvard Business School.
These researchers gave envelopes containing $5 or $20 to people on the street. In some of the envelopes, there was a note asking the recipients to spend money on themselves. The other half received a note asking them to spend the money on someone else or donate it to charity.
The researchers then contacted everyone and asked them how the unexpected windfall had affected their happiness at the end of the day. They reported that those who had been assigned to spend the money on others reported higher levels of happiness.
The Wall Street Journal Survey Has Similar Results
The Journal also did its own survey online. They asked respondents to imagine how happy they would be if they spent a $100 windfall on themselves. The average response on a five-point scale (with 5 being “very happy”) was 3.89.
When asked how happy they would be if they spent the $100 windfall on others, the respondents reported an average happiness level of 4.32.
“We are built so that giving also feels good. When we donate to a cause we believe in, everybody wins,” The Journal article concluded.
Shlomo Benartzi & Christopher Olivola, “The Mistakes We Make When Giving to Charity,” The Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2016, pp R1-R2.