Spend your way to happiness

Spending only $5 on someone else can increase your happiness.

Students, instructors, faculty, and members of the community gathered at SFU’s Surrey campus on November 6 to learn about how they can spend their way to happiness.    

Lara Aknin, an SFU assistant professor of social psychology, gave a lecture titled, “Doing Good, Feeling Good,” as part of the President’s Faculty Lecture series. The lecture focused on her research, which looks at the emotional consequences of generous behaviour.

“Much of the research I have conducted examines people’s perceptions of the money and happiness relationship,” said Aknin. Her findings indicate that we feel happier when we spend money on others rather than on ourselves. During the talk, she described how there seems to be a “positive feedback loop” between generous behaviour and happiness.

Aknin and other researchers found that people from around the world gain emotional benefits from using their financial resources to help others.

She suggested, “Consider spending your extra disposable income on others instead of yourself. Our research suggests you’ll be happier for it!”

Aknin noted that this runs contrary to many preconceived notions about human nature: “While many perspectives of human nature argue that people are selfish, a growing body of research suggests that, when we help others, we experience a boost in happiness from doing so.”

Her research also indicates that benefits stem less from the actual gift than the act of giving. “Spending as little as $5 on others as opposed to yourself can have a measurable impact on your happiness,” said Aknin.

Aknin and colleagues found that even children experienced positive effects when they engaged in generous behaviour. Their research found that children as young as two years old were happier when they gave their treats away instead of keeping them.

Aknin’s research has been featured on CNN and quoted in Forbes Magazine and The New York Times. She has done over 300 interviews, and Yes Magazine quotes her research as “one of the top 10 things that science has taught us about happiness.”

SFU president Andrew Petter explained that the lecture series plays a crucial role in SFU’s commitment to being Canada’s most community-engaged university: “The President’s Lecture series is dedicated to highlighting our internationally recognized researchers and sharing their research with the community.”