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Harvard study: Where does happiness really come from?

Does happiness come from within? What does money have to do with happiness? A new Harvard study has new insight into where happiness really comes from.

people pleaser

people pleaser

The science behind happiness

Acts 20:35 states, “…It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Research proves this advice is scientifically sound. In a recent study from Harvard University, “Prosocial Spending and Happiness: Using Money to Benefit Others Pays Off” researchers looked at the connection between giving and happiness. Their paper clearly establishes a link between spending money on others versus yourself.

They even studied toddlers who gave snacks to a puppet. The children’s facial expressions were coded for happiness. The toddlers showed more excitement when giving treats to the puppet than when they received the treats. Even more interesting, the children had the most happiness when they gave the puppet treats from their own stash (versus an extra treat provided by the experimenter.)

Helping others also increases happiness

Using your resources to help others increases your own happiness. The most emotional rewards come from satisfying a need for social connection. For instance, you may receive happiness when you give someone a Starbucks gift card, but you’ll experience even more rewards by taking someone to Starbucks and buying them coffee.

Researchers also examined the happiness boost when you give to charity. People who donated to a charity that had a “clear, concrete promise” such as a providing a bed net to children for a $10 donation experienced more happiness than someone who gave a donation to help children without a clear idea of where their money would be going.

Another study suggests you follow the money

After your basic needs are met, look at where your money is going. Another study from Joseph Chancellor and Sonya Lyubomirsky suggests that you will get more happiness by spending your money on experiences rather than things. Memories that last and that foster a sense of community are more important to your wellbeing than belongings.

The Harvard study suggests that it’s how you spend your money that matters to your overall happiness. Often, what someone thinks will make them happy really doesn’t. Although one spending decision isn’t likely to have long-term effects on your happiness, the way you choose to use your discretionary income over time will. Putting your money toward building relationships provides positive rewards for your mood.

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Dawn Brotherton is a Sr. Staff Writer at The American Genius with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Oklahoma. She is an experienced business writer with over 10 years of experience in SEO and content creation. Since 2017, she has earned $60K+ in grant writing for a local community center, which assists disadvantaged adults in the area.



  1. Pingback: A new look at balancing your time, money, and happiness - The American Genius

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