Lara Aknin


Want to feel good? Spend money on someone else

October 29, 2014

People feel better when they spend money on others rather than themselves, says Lara Aknin, a professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University.

Aknin will share her research on generosity, money and happiness as the next speaker in SFU’s President’s Faculty Lecture Series on Thursday, Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. at the Surrey campus.

Aknin’s research focuses on the emotional consequences of kind or generous behaviour, and her studies on spending money on others speak to the idea that money can buy happiness.

“Much of the research I have conducted examines people’s perceptions of the money and happiness relationship,” says Aknin, whose research has been featured in Yes Magazine as “one of the top 10 things that science taught us about happiness” (2012). She has done more than 300 media interviews worldwide on the subject and has been featured on CNN and quoted in Forbes Magazine and the New York Times.

“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,” says Aknin. “These findings suggest that doing good can lead to feeling good.”

Children as young as two are happier giving than receiving

That may be true among even some of the youngest humans, Aknin says. Her team had earlier found that children as young as two were happier giving treats away than they were when receiving the same treats themselves. The researchers are currently carrying out follow-up studies to better understand the origins of emotionally rewarding pro-social acts.

Aknin’s interest in generosity developed as a university student after volunteering in the UBC psychology department’s emotion lab.

“I saw how the experience of human behavior becomes much more interesting when emotions enter the picture,” says Aknin. “And while there is ample research on human emotion, I discovered that there was actually very little examining what makes people happy. I became excited that, through science, I could look further into this.”

A positive "feedback loop" between generosity and happiness

Aknin began her research in 2008 and discovered the potential for a positive "feedback loop” between generosity and happiness. Among her latest research, Aknin is conducting field studies to determine whether school-based philanthropy programs lead to positive outcomes in schools and beyond, through new friendships, social connection and a responsibility to community.

"The President's lecture series is dedicated to highlighting our internationally recognized researchers and sharing their research with the community,” says SFU President Andrew Petter. “This is a key part of our commitment to be Canada's most community-engaged research University.”

The lecture is free, but registration is required.