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Prosocial Spending and Happiness: Using Money to Benefit Others Pays Off


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Although a great deal of research has shown that people with more money are somewhat happier than are people with less money, our research demonstrates that how people spend their money also matters for their happiness. In particular, both correlational and experimental studies have shown that people who spend money on others report more happiness. The benefits of such prosocial spending emerge among adults around the world, and the warm glow of giving can be detected even in toddlers. These benefits are most likely to emerge when giving satisfies one or more core human needs (relatedness, competence, and autonomy). The rewards of prosocial spending are observable in both the brain and the body and can potentially be harnessed by organizations and governments.
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Current Directions in Psychological
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DOI: 10.1177/0963721413512503
2014 23: 41Current Directions in Psychological Science
Elizabeth W. Dunn, Lara B. Aknin and Michael I. Norton
Prosocial Spending and Happiness: Using Money to Benefit Others Pays Off
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DOI: 10.1177/0963721413512503
Imagine digging out your jacket for the first time since
winter and discovering a crumpled $20 bill in the pocket.
How would you spend this windfall? Would you buy
your partner a bouquet of yellow tulips? Would you give
the cash to the homeless man you pass everyday on your
way to work? Or would you buy yourself a vegetable
panini for lunch? These questions reflect a broader
human dilemma: What is the best way to use our money
to maximize our happiness?
A large body of research on the overall relationship
between money and happiness has shown that individu-
als with more money are happier (e.g., Diener, Ng,
Harter, & Arora, 2010; Diener, Tay, & Oishi, 2013),
although this relationship is weaker than many people
assume (Aknin, Norton, & Dunn, 2009; Kahneman,
Krueger, Schkade, Schwarz, & Stone, 2006; but see Cone
& Gilovich, 2010). But how people spend their money
may be at least as important as the amount of money
they have (Dunn & Norton, 2013).
In an initial experiment, we approached people on a
university campus and gave them either $5 or $20 to
spend by the end of the day (Dunn, Aknin, & Norton,
2008). We instructed half of the participants to spend the
money on themselves (personal spending) and half to
spend the money on someone else (prosocial spending).
That evening, people who had been assigned to spend
the money on someone else reported happier moods
over the course of the day than did those people assigned
to spend the money on themselves. It is interesting that
the amount of money the participants received had no
bearing on their happiness.
When we described the experiment to other partici-
pants, however, their predictions were doubly wrong:
They believed that they would be happier spending more
money ($20 vs. $5) and that they would be happier
spending it on themselves. Thus, people’s daily spending
choices may be guided by flawed intuitions about the
relationship between money and happiness. Indeed,
research has suggested that just being reminded of
money may make people less attuned to the needs of
others (Vohs, Mead, & Goode, 2006). Thinking about
money may propel individuals toward using their finan-
cial resources to benefit themselves, but spending money
512503CDPXXX10.1177/0963721413512503Dunn et al.Prosocial Spending and Happiness
Corresponding Author:
Elizabeth W. Dunn, Department of Psychology, University of British
Columbia, Douglas Kenny Building, 2136 West Mall, Vancouver,
British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada
Prosocial Spending and Happiness: Using
Money to Benefit Others Pays Off
Elizabeth W. Dunn1, Lara B. Aknin2, and
Michael I. Norton3
1Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia; 2Department of Psychology,
Simon Fraser University; and 3Marketing Unit, Harvard Business School
Although a great deal of research has shown that people with more money are somewhat happier than are people
with less money, our research demonstrates that how people spend their money also matters for their happiness. In
particular, both correlational and experimental studies have shown that people who spend money on others report
more happiness. The benefits of such prosocial spending emerge among adults around the world, and the warm glow
of giving can be detected even in toddlers. These benefits are most likely to emerge when giving satisfies one or more
core human needs (relatedness, competence, and autonomy). The rewards of prosocial spending are observable in
both the brain and the body and can potentially be harnessed by organizations and governments.
money, prosocial spending, happiness, well-being
by Lara Aknin on February 5, 2014cdp.sagepub.comDownloaded from
42 Dunn et al.
on others can provide a more effective route to increas-
ing one’s own happiness.
Is the Warm Glow of Giving Universal?
Our initial research on prosocial spending and happiness
was conducted in North America, where people enjoy a
level of wealth that is highly atypical compared with liv-
ing conditions experienced throughout human history
and much of the world today. As a result, the emotional
benefits of giving might be dampened or eliminated in
countries in which many people are still struggling to
meet their own basic needs. Discovering that people
derive emotional benefits from prosocial spending even
in poorer countries, however, would provide evidence
that the warm glow of giving may be a fundamental com-
ponent of human nature. We examined the correlation
between charitable giving and happiness in 136 countries
(Aknin, Barrington-Leigh, et al., 2013). In 120 of the
countries, there was a positive relationship between giv-
ing and happiness (when we controlled for income and
other demographic variables), and this relationship was
significant in a majority of the countries (see Fig. 1 for
world map). Although the strength of the relationship
varied among countries, individuals in poor and rich
countries alike reported more happiness if they engaged
in prosocial spending.
We also provided causal evidence for the emotional
rewards of prosocial spending in an economically diverse
group of countries, including Canada, India, South Africa,
and Uganda (Aknin, Barrington-Leigh, et al., 2013). In
one experiment conducted in both Canada and South
Africa, participants were given the opportunity to spend
money on a “goody bag” filled with treats (such as choc-
olate). Half of the participants were told that they would
receive the goody bag they purchased (personal spend-
ing), and half were told that a sick child in a local hospi-
tal would receive the goody bag (prosocial spending).
Participants who bought a gift bag for a sick child
reported significantly happier mood than did participants
who purchased the same goody bag for themselves. This
finding is particularly notable, given that more than 20%
of the South African sample reported not having enough
money to buy food for themselves or their families in the
preceding year.
These results suggest that the capacity to derive joy
from giving might be a universal feature of human psy-
chology. If this is the case, then even young children
might experience happiness from giving to others. We
gave toddlers just under the age of 2 a pile of appealing
Fig. 1.World map displaying the relationship between prosocial spending and happiness around the globe. From “Prosocial Spending and Well-
Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal,” by L. B. Aknin, C. P. Barrington-Leigh, E. W. Dunn, J. F. Helliwell, J. Burns, R. Biswas-
Diener, . . . M. I. Norton, 2013, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, p. 639. Copyright by the American Psychological Association.
Reprinted with permission.
by Lara Aknin on February 5, 2014cdp.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Prosocial Spending and Happiness 43
treats (e.g., goldfish crackers; Aknin, Hamlin, & Dunn,
2012). The children were asked to give one of their treats
away to a puppet who enthusiastically ate the treat (see
Fig. 2 for images from each phase of the study). In addi-
tion, the experimenter “found” an extra treat, which she
asked the child to give to the puppet. Research assistants
coded children’s facial expressions for happiness.
Children exhibited more happiness when they gave treats
away to the puppet than when they received treats them-
selves (see Fig. 3 for coded happiness ratings). Moreover,
children showed the highest levels of happiness when
they gave a treat away from their own stash (vs. the experi-
menter’s extra treat). Taken together, this research showed
that adults around the world and even young children
experience emotional benefits from using their resources
to help others, which suggests that humans may have a
deep-seated proclivity to find giving rewarding.
When Does Prosocial Spending
Promote Happiness?
The argument that humans have a universal tendency to
experience joy from giving does not mean that every
form of prosocial spending always produces emotional
benefits. Most people can probably think of a time when
they did something generous and did not experience
a boost in happiness, and the existing literature has con-
firmed that giving does not always produce joy (e.g.,
Berman & Small, 2012). Self-determination theory pro-
vides a framework for understanding when and why
giving leads to happiness (Weinstein & Ryan, 2010).
According to this theory, human well-being depends on
the satisfaction of three basic needs: relatedness, compe-
tence, and autonomy. Although prosocial spending is
certainly not the only way to fulfill these needs—and it
may also be possible to meet these needs through per-
sonal spending—we suggest that prosocial spending
should be most likely to produce happiness under condi-
tions that satisfy these needs.
Helping others may be most emotionally rewarding when
it satisfies the fundamental need for social connection.
Consistent with this idea, we found that individuals gar-
ner more happiness from prosocial spending when giv-
ing provides the opportunity to connect with other
people (Aknin, Dunn, Sandstrom, & Norton, 2013). In
Fig. 2.Example images of four phases from Aknin, Hamlin, and Dunn’s (2012) toddler sharing study. Tod-
dlers were introduced to a puppet (a) and given eight treats (b). Then, in counterbalanced order, each toddler
was asked to give the experimenter’s extra treat to the puppet (c) and to give one of their own treats to the
puppet (d). A sample video is available at
by Lara Aknin on February 5, 2014cdp.sagepub.comDownloaded from
44 Dunn et al.
one experiment, participants who received a $10
Starbucks gift card were happier if they spent it on a
friend rather than on themselves—but only if they took
the time to go to Starbucks with their friend. In another
study, we found that individuals get the biggest happi-
ness bang for their buck when they spend money on
close others rather than on acquaintances (Aknin,
Sandstrom, Dunn, & Norton, 2011), perhaps because
close relationships are especially critical for satisfying the
need to belong (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).
Prosocial spending is most likely to satisfy the need for
competence if people can see how their generous actions
have made a difference. Thus, individuals may experi-
ence a bigger happiness boost from giving to charities
that make it easy to see the positive impact of donations.
For example, both UNICEF and Spread the Net are
deserving charities dedicated to improving children’s
health in impoverished areas of the world, but Spread the
Net offers a clear, concrete promise: For every $10
donated, the charity will provide a bed net to protect a
child at risk of malaria. When we gave participants the
opportunity to donate money to Spread the Net, indi-
viduals who donated more money felt happier, control-
ling for happiness before the donation (Aknin, Dunn,
Whillans, Grant, & Norton, 2013). In contrast, giving
money to UNICEF provided no such benefit. People
derive more happiness from prosocial spending if they
feel like effective, competent helpers whose actions have
made a real difference.
Because the need for autonomy is satisfied when people
feel that their actions are freely chosen, the emotional
benefits of prosocial spending should be stronger when
people have a choice about whether to give. In one
study, participants inside a scanner exhibited stronger
activation in reward areas of the brain when they freely
donated to a local charity compared with when they
were required to make a donation (Harbaugh, Mayr, &
Burghart, 2007). Weinstein and Ryan (2010) showed that
people experienced happier moods when they gave
more money away—but only if they had a choice about
how much to give. When participants were given a
choice, the donation of more money led them to feel
more autonomous, as well as more related and compe-
tent. The effect of giving on happiness was mediated by
overall satisfaction of the three basic needs, which dem-
onstrated that these needs are deeply intertwined.
Taken together, this research suggests that the emo-
tional benefits of prosocial spending are likely to be
greatest when giving satisfies the needs for relatedness,
competence, and autonomy. When prosocial spending
fails to increase happiness—in everyday life or in a psy-
chology experiment—consider whether the giving
opportunity could be redesigned to increase the likeli-
hood that one or more of these needs is satisfied. By
(a) Child
Meets Puppet
(b) Child Receives
Eight Treats
(c) Child Gives the
Extra Treat to Puppet
(d) Child Gives Own
Treat to Puppet
Happiness as Rated by Coders
Fig. 3.Children’s happiness, as rated by coders, for four phases of the toddler sharing study (Aknin,
Hamlin, & Dunn, 2012). Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals around the mean.
by Lara Aknin on February 5, 2014cdp.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Prosocial Spending and Happiness 45
doing so, charities can maximize the emotional benefits
of giving for their donors, thereby potentially increasing
the likelihood of repeat donations; the happier people
feel when reflecting on previous prosocial spending, the
more likely they are to spend on others in the future
(Aknin, Dunn, & Norton, 2012).
Beyond Happiness
Although happiness is most frequently assessed though
simple self-report measures, the benefits of prosocial
spending can be detected in the brain and the body. As
noted earlier, prosocial spending produces activation in
reward areas of the brain (Harbaugh et al., 2007; Moll
et al., 2006; Zaki & Mitchell, 2011). And the emotional
consequences of prosocial spending produce a cascade
of physical consequences. In a previous study, in the
context of a large classroom, we gave students $10 and
informed them that they could donate as much as they
wished to another student in the class who had not
received any money (Dunn, Ashton-James, Hanson, &
Aknin, 2010). The more money students gave away, the
happier their moods afterward, when we controlled for
their happiness beforehand. Conversely, the more money
students kept for themselves, the more shame they expe-
rienced. And the more ashamed they felt, the higher their
levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that has been linked
to a variety of health problems. These results suggested
that everyday spending decisions can get under the skin
to influence health.
Although any one spending decision likely has short-
lived effects on biological processes, these decisions
may compound over time to shape important health
outcomes. Older adults who report giving more money
and other resources to others exhibit better overall
health—from fewer sleep disorders to better hearing—
even after a wide range of variables are controlled
for (e.g., gender, income, physical mobility; Brown,
Consedine, & Magai, 2005). Experimental research has
shown that prosocial spending can increase physical
strength; participants who had donated to a charity
were able to squeeze a handgrip for more than 20 sec-
onds longer than were control participants (Gray, 2010).
Participants also reported happier moods after donat-
ing, but their enhanced strength did not stem from their
elevated happiness. Thus, prosocial spending may have
independent positive effects on both emotional and
physical vitality.
Future Directions
Researchers should further examine the pathways that
explain how good deeds are transformed into good
feelings. For example, prosocial spending might promote
happiness by endowing givers with a feeling of power or
by enabling them to witness others’ gratitude. Given that
forms of generosity other than prosocial spending also
predict happiness (e.g., volunteering; Thoits & Hewitt,
2001), researchers could explore whether different path-
ways—with different antecedents and consequences—
might explain the emotional benefits of giving money
compared with the giving of other resources.
Most of our research has focused on common forms of
spending, such as treating a friend to coffee or making a
charitable donation. It also would be interesting to inves-
tigate whether the happiness benefits of prosocial spend-
ing extend to “impact investments,” in which people
invest money with the goal of aiding social or environ-
mental causes—while also reaping a financial return. In
addition, future researchers should examine more diverse
forms of prosocial spending, including its most dreaded
form: taxation. Although taxes are rarely associated with
happiness, it may be possible to harness research on the
emotional benefits of prosocial spending to improve
people’s feelings about paying their taxes. Indeed, paral-
lel research has suggested that the benefits of prosocial
spending are most likely to emerge if donors are given a
choice (Weinstein & Ryan, 2010), and new research has
suggested that injecting an element of choice into tax
payments increases taxpayer satisfaction (Lamberton,
In addition to research on individual happiness,
researchers should examine the broader benefits of proso-
cial spending initiatives within teams and organizations.
For example, Google provides employees with an open
invitation to apply for a bonus—not for themselves, but for
a deserving coworker (Dunn & Norton, 2013). Our most
recent research has provided initial evidence that giving
employees the opportunity to engage in prosocial spend-
ing can potentially enhance job satisfaction and perfor-
mance (Anik, Aknin, Norton, Dunn, & Quiodbach, 2013).
The time is ripe for exploring how “prosocial bonuses” can
improve organizational success.
Finally, many fascinating questions remain unan-
swered regarding individual differences in the proclivity
to engage in prosocial spending and to derive joy from
doing so. For example, could genetic differences in sen-
sitivity to oxytocin (a hormone involved in bonding)
explain why some people get a bigger boost from proso-
cial spending than do others? Do enjoyable early child-
hood experiences with giving lead people to seek out
prosocial spending opportunities, perhaps as a result of
changes in the self-concept? Understanding the individ-
ual-level factors that alter the emotional impact of giving
will offer further insight into the psychology of prosocial
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46 Dunn et al.
In much of the research on money and happiness,
researchers have explored the overall relationship
between these variables; in our research, we have shifted
the focus toward the consideration of how people can
use their money to increase happiness—whether they
have a little or a lot of money. The benefits of prosocial
spending are evident in givers old and young in countries
around the world and extend to not only subjective well-
being but also objective health. Despite people’s intu-
itions and inclinations to the contrary, one of the best
ways to get the biggest payoff personally from a windfall
of $20 is to spend it prosocially.
Recommended Reading
Aknin, L. B., Barrington-Leigh, C. P., Dunn, E. W., Helliwell,
J. F., Burns, J., Biswas-Diener, R., . . . Norton, M. I. (2013).
(See References). Provides a broad review of the relevant
literature, detailed data from around the world, and discus-
sion of alternative explanations.
Diener, E., Ng, W., Harter, J., & Arora, R. (2010). (See References).
Provides a full discussion of research on the relationship
between money and happiness around the world.
Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). (See
References). Presents our first studies on the correlational
and causal relationship between prosocial spending and
Dunn, E., & Norton, M. (2013). (See References). Written for
a broad audience, provides an approachable review of
research on how people can get more happiness from their
Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2012). World happiness
report. New York, NY: The Earth Institute, Columbia
University. Commissioned by the United Nations, offers a
thorough overview of predictors of happiness around the
Author Contributions
Elizabeth W. Dunn and Lara B. Aknin wrote the manuscript.
Michael I. Norton edited the manuscript.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest
with respect to their authorship or the publication of this
The research described in this article was supported by grants
to E. W. Dunn from the Social Sciences and Humanities
Research Council (410-2008-2509) and the Canadian Institutes
of Health Research (MOP-110968). These are government
agencies and do not represent specific interests beyond
advancing science and furthering the general betterment of
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... Understanding how happiness is evoked through donations is critical for charities to build long term relationships with donors (Arnett, German, & Hunt, 2003), thus generating more sustainable support for charities (Aknin, Dunn, & Norton, 2012). Moreover, although previous research reports that prosocial behavior enhances personal happiness in general (Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2014), we offer a more nuanced picture by demonstrating that, depending on social proximity to the beneficiary, some prosocial behaviors may provide respondents with higher levels of happiness (e.g., when they are directed to distant vs. close others), shedding light on an ''important and underexplored dimension of prosocial behavior" (Cavanaugh et al., 2015, p. 658). ...
Although donors may prefer contributing to causes that help those who are socially closer to them, we propose that donating to socially distant beneficiaries makes donors feel happier. This occurs because donating to distant (vs. close) others results in an experience of greater benevolence. We further identify regulatory focus as a boundary condition of these effects. In one choice study and four experiments featuring close to 2,500 respondents, we demonstrate this phenomenon across diverse samples and varying forms of beneficiaries. Our research extends prior work examining the impact of recognition from others on charitable behavior to examine donors’ self-evaluations, and how they impact happiness.
... Well-being has been found to be associated with various positive outcomes such as quality social relationships and work productivity (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005;Reschly et al., 2008;Seligman, 2011). One of the important outcomes that the current study particularly pays attention to is organizational citizenship behavior (OCB; Dunn et al., 2014;Kansky, 2017). OCB is defined as behavior not directly recognized by the formal reward system but that which contributes to organizational effectiveness (Smith et al., 1983). ...
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The current study proposes a multidimensional student athlete well-being framework (SAWBF). The authors used 12 items to capture SAWBF comprised of four well-being dimensions (i.e., physical, hedonic, psychological, and social well-being). To empirically assess the reliability and validity of the framework, data from elite collegiate student athletes in Japan (N = 546) were procured. The results indicated sufficient convergent and discriminant validities of SAWBF. The authors also assessed predictive validity correlations of the framework by focusing on the oft-supported well-being outcome-organizational citizenship behavior, which were also found to be associated with SAWBF. The findings indicated the usefulness of SAWBF; and coaches and staff members can utilize the framework to multi-dimensionally understand well-being status of their student athletes, potentially boosting adaptive behaviors.
... Such a systematic review is valuable and needed for several reasons. First, a systematic review provides a comprehensive synthesis of the existing research on the effects of prosocial spending on happiness, as well as potential mediators (e.g., Dunn, Aknin & Norton, 2014;Dunn, Whillans, Norton & Aknin, 2020;Titova & Sheldon, 2022) and moderators (e.g., Hill & Howell, 2014; of these effects. This allows researchers and practitioners to gain a more nuanced understanding of the mechanisms underlying the relationship between them, and to identify areas where further research is needed. ...
Considerable research has amassed a plethora of evidence indicating that prosocial spending has a consistently positive effect on individual happiness. Nevertheless, this effect may be subject to various influencing factors that researchers have yet to systematically examine. The purpose of this systematic review is twofold: first, to document the empirical evidence of the relationship between prosocial spending and happiness, and second, to systematically categorize the influential factors affecting this relationship from the perspective of mediators and moderators. To achieve this goal, this systematic review incorporates the influential factors identified by researchers into an intra-individual, inter-individual, and methodological framework. Ultimately, this review includes 14 empirical studies that have effectively fulfilled the aforementioned two objectives. The systematic review concludes that engaging in prosocial spending consistently demonstrates a positive effect on individual happiness, irrespective of cultural or demographic factors, although the complexity of this relationship necessitates consideration of mediating and moderating factors, as well as methodological nuances.
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Background: Pretraumatic stress has the same symptoms as post-traumatic stress but instead pertains to anticipated threats. There is evidence that pretraumatic stress occurs among soldiers and pregnant people. Objective: We analyzed correlates of pretraumatic stress concerning the threat of COVID-19 infection. Method: Our pilot study was cross-sectional (N = 74); our main study was longitudinal and consisted of three waves (N = 1067, N = 894, and N = 752 for Waves 1, 2, and 3, respectively). Our pilot study used correlation and multiple linear regression. Our main study used quadratic regression and a random intercept cross-lagged panel model. Results: The pilot study found that pretraumatic stress was positively correlated with agreeableness (r = .24, p < .01) and negatively correlated with emotional stability (r = -.30, p < .01) and intellect/imagination (r = -.37, p < .01). The main study demonstrated that pretraumatic stress was positively correlated with other measures of mental health problems during the COVID-19 pandemic and with perceived positive aspects of the pandemic (r = .11, p < .01). There is evidence of a U-shaped relationship between pretraumatic stress and perceived positive aspects of the pandemic. A random intercept cross-lagged panel model analysis demonstrated that pretraumatic stress in Wave 2 was negatively predicted by levels of prosocial behavior in Wave 1 (B = -1.130, p < .01). Conclusion: Mental health professionals should take into account pretraumatic stress, not only as a possible consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak but more generally as a risk in situations that are new, difficult, and challenging for people.
Eight moral virtues that have figured prominently in various cultures throughout history will be discussed: altruism, empathy, gratitude, humility, and the "cardinal virtues" of justice, prudence, fortitude, and temperance. The focus will be on how to understand them and what their relationship is to happiness. It will be argued that all eight essential moral virtues enhance happiness in most people most of the time. Their favourable impact on happiness may motivate humans to become better, which includes the decision to subject themselves voluntarily to moral bioenhancement (MBE)-in order to achieve this betterment. Nonetheless, the development of MBE technologies is still in its infancy and moral education remains the primary means for the moral enhancement of humans, as well as for the enhancement of their happiness. This may however change in the relatively near future.
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Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, formal structures to address the issue of homelessness did not exist in the Provincial sphere of Government in Gauteng. Services available were offered by faith-based communities and Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs) on an ad hoc and voluntary basis at the local government level. The pandemic and lockdown restrictions that followed meant that the Provincial government - which has as its main function legislative and executive authority, had to devise a temporary strategy to accommodate the homeless. A homelessness programme grounded on ubuntu philosophy was developed to assist with the provision of food, sanitation, and shelter for the homeless. Services were expanded to include park homes that provided temporary shelter and holistic services to capacitate the homeless with skills to become self-sufficient and self-reliant in the long run, as well as provision of health care and reunification services. Using a case study of the Gauteng Province homelessness programme, this chapter will explore the use of the ubuntu approach to draw lessons from the programme and the implications for social work practice.
In this study, the factors that determine the intentions of individuals to donate to nonprofit organizations (NPOs) were analyzed. Based on an extensive review of the academic literature, research hypotheses were proposed about the influences of altruism, self-esteem, trust, donation past behavior, attitudes and brand identification. Data were collected by means of an online survey. The sample was composed of 300 respondents. The empirical investigation consisted of specifying and estimating a model using PLS-SEM. The results showed that altruism and self-esteem did not have statistically significant effects on the intention to donate. The findings suggested that donations to NPOs were more strongly influenced by trust, past donation behavior, attitudes, and brand identification. The paper discusses implications of these results for theory and managerial practices related to philanthropy.
Reduced tendency to engage in potentially rewarding activities is a hallmark of depression. The present study investigated the role of future expectancy biases in depression-linked behavioural choice, in participants varying in self-reported depression symptoms (dysphoria). A novel laboratory paradigm was developed to test the hypotheses that the degree to which higher dysphoria is associated with reduced tendency to engage in a potentially rewarding activity is dependent on the presence of negative biases in the expected outcomes of activity engagement. Specifically, two types of expectancy biases were distinguished: a) the expected likelihood of a negative rather than positive outcome, and b) the expected emotional impact of either outcome. N = 176 undergraduate students with varied levels of dysphoria were given the opportunity to choose to engage in a coin-tossing game that could result in a win or loss monetary outcome in terms of charity donations, and then rated both types of expectancies. Results indicated that higher dysphoria was associated with more negative expectations concerning the likelihood of objective outcomes and the emotional impact of such outcomes, and as hypothesised, such negative expectancy biases mediated indirect associations between dysphoria and behavioural choice.
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When are the emotional benefits of generous behaviour most likely to emerge? In three studies, we demonstrate that the hedonic benefits of generous spending are most likely when spending promotes positive social connection. Study 1 shows that people feel happier after giving more to charity, but only when they give to someone connected with the cause. Studies 2 and 3 show that the emotional rewards associated with giving to friends or acquaintances are greatest in situations that facilitate social connection. Thus, social connection may be important for turning good deeds into good feelings, and maximising connectedness between givers and recipients may enhance the emotional payoff of charitable initiatives.
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In three field studies, we explore the impact of providing employees and teammates with prosocial bonuses, a novel type of bonus spent on others rather than on oneself. In Experiment 1, we show that prosocial bonuses in the form of donations to charity lead to happier and more satisfied employees at an Australian bank. In Experiments 2a and 2b, we show that prosocial bonuses in the form of expenditures on teammates lead to better performance in both sports teams in Canada and pharmaceutical sales teams in Belgium. These results suggest that a minor adjustment to employee bonuses - shifting the focus from the self to others - can produce measurable benefits for employees and organizations.
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Moral transformation is the hypothesis that doing good or evil increases agency—the capacity for self-control, tenacity, and personal strength. Three experiments provide support for this hypothesis, finding that those who do good or evil become phy- sically more powerful. In Experiment 1, people hold a 5 lb. weight longer after donating to charity. In Experiment 2, people hold a weight longer when writing about themselves helping or harming another. In Experiment 3, people hold a hand grip longer after donating to charity. The transformative power of good and evil is not accounted for by affect. Moral transformation is explained as the embodiment of moral typecasting, the tendency to ''typecast'' good- and evildoers as more capable of agency and less sensitive to experience. Implications for power, aging, self-control, and recovery are discussed.
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This research provides the first support for a possible psychological universal: Human beings around the world derive emotional benefits from using their financial resources to help others (prosocial spending). In Study 1, survey data from 136 countries were examined and showed that prosocial spending is associated with greater happiness around the world, in poor and rich countries alike. To test for causality, in Studies 2a and 2b, we used experimental methodology, demonstrating that recalling a past instance of prosocial spending has a causal impact on happiness across countries that differ greatly in terms of wealth (Canada, Uganda, and India). Finally, in Study 3, participants in Canada and South Africa randomly assigned to buy items for charity reported higher levels of positive affect than participants assigned to buy the same items for themselves, even when this prosocial spending did not provide an opportunity to build or strengthen social ties. Our findings suggest that the reward experienced from helping others may be deeply ingrained in human nature, emerging in diverse cultural and economic contexts. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved).
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While numerous studies have documented the modest (though reliable) link between household income and well-being, we examined the accuracy of laypeople's intuitions about this relationship by asking people from across the income spectrum to report their own happiness and to predict the happiness of others (Study 1) and themselves (Study 2) at different income levels. Data from two national surveys revealed that while laypeople's predictions were relatively accurate at higher levels of income, they greatly overestimated the impact of income on life satisfaction at lower income levels, expecting low household income to be coupled with very low life satisfaction. Thus, people may work hard to maintain or increase their income in part because they overestimate the hedonic costs of earning low levels of income.
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It is claimed that the correlation between income and happiness is considerably weaker than people expect and recent research supports that contention. However, an important lesson from judgment and decision-making research is that judgments are constructed in response to the prevailing context, leaving open the possibility that some elicitation procedures may reveal accurate intuitions about income and happiness. We examined whether this is so. Study 1 participants ranked a set of empirical relationships according to the strength of correlation and we examined whether they ranked the income–happiness link where it actually falls in the set. In Studies 2 and 3, participants estimated the probability that someone with a higher income than another is also the happier of the two. The estimates of the participants were then compared to the actual probability based on the documented income–happiness relationship. Results indicate that, using these elicitation procedures, people have an accurate understanding of the relationship between income and happiness.
How can tax payment be made more satisfying? The author focuses on the low volition and collective nature of tax-funded benefits as primary causes of low satisfaction with tax payment. Three studies suggest that allowing people to allocate a small portion (in the present research, 10%) of their payment across budgets provided by the billing party both introduces an element of volition into the payment process and increases the perceived benefit associated with tax payment. As a result, the author concludes that taxpayers are significantly more satisfied with paying taxes when they allocate their payments, even if their payment amount remains completely unchanged. In addition to enhancing taxpayer satisfaction, an allocation program, if well implemented, could provide some hope for correcting existing lack of voice, address disconnects between spending and taxpayers' priorities, and increase civic engagement in general.
When does giving lead to happiness? Here, we present two studies demonstrating that the emotional benefits of spending money on others (prosocial spending) are unleashed when givers are aware of their positive impact. In Study 1, an experiment using real charitable appeals, giving more money to charity led to higher levels of happiness only when participants gave to causes that explained how these funds are used to make a difference in the life of a recipient. In Study 2, participants were asked to reflect upon a time they spent money on themselves or on others in a way that either had a positive impact or had no impact. Participants who recalled a time they spent on others that had a positive impact were happiest. Together, these results suggest that highlighting the impact of prosocial spending can increase the emotional rewards of giving.
How can tax payment be made more satisfying? This paper argues that the low volition and collective nature of tax-funded benefits as primary causes of low satisfaction with tax payment. Three studies then suggest that providing individuals with the opportunity to allocate a small portion (in the present research, 10%) of their payment across budgets provided by the billing party both introduces an element of volition into the payment process and increases the perceived benefit associated with tax payment. As a result, taxpayers are significantly more satisfied with paying taxes, despite the fact that their payment amount remains completely unchanged. In addition to enhancing taxpayer satisfaction, an allocation program, if well-implemented, could also provide some hope for correcting existing lack of voice, address disconnects between spending and taxpayers’ priorities, and increase civic engagement in general.
We explored whether rising income in nations is associated with increasing subjective well-being (SWB), with several advances over earlier work. Our methods are improved in that across time, the same well-being questions were asked in the same order, and we employed broad and equivalent representative samples over time from a large number of nations. We also assessed psychosocial factors that might mediate the relation of income and SWB. We found that changes in household income were associated with concomitant changes in life evaluations, positive feelings, and negative feelings. The effects of gross domestic product (GDP) change were weaker and significant only for life evaluations, perhaps because GDP was a less certain index of the standard of living of the average household. The association of income and SWB is more likely to occur when the average person's material welfare accompanies rising income, when people become more satisfied with their finances, and when people become more optimistic about their futures. People did not adapt to the income rises during the period of years we studied, in that income rises produced SWB increases that did not return to earlier levels. It appears that previous researchers failed to come to agreement because of the small sample sizes of the nations, the inconsistent methods across years and surveys, and the lack of measures of potential mediating variables. Analyses of income relative to people in one's nation and between-nation slopes together suggest that income standards are now largely global, with little effect of national social comparison. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved).