issues and experts

The Science of Giving

December 04, 2015
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SFU Psychology Professor Lara Aknin is an expert in the psychology of giving and generosity. Her research focuses on the happiness benefits of giving and has led to some counterintuitive findings. 

Aknin has found that spending money on others leads to greater happiness than spending money on oneself. Importantly, the warm glow of giving is NOT limited to North America. People from rich and poor countries around the world experience happiness boosts from behaving generously, even though most people tend to predict they’ll be happier spending money on themselves.

Surprisingly, this finding is true for toddlers as well. Although we often think of young children as selfish, yelling “MINE!” as they reach for toys, Aknin’s work has shown that kids – like adults – experience greater happiness from sharing treats with others than receiving treats themselves.

“Our research has shown repeatedly that giving leads to well-being benefits. We’ve seen these results emerge in adults around the world and in young kids,” she says.

Beyond studying whether giving has emotional benefits, Aknin’s research has also uncovered one surprising gift giving strategy that may be useful this holiday season – give a gift that reflects your own interests and passions rather than those of the recipient. Some of her most recent research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology has shown that, although most people generally prefer giving and receiving gifts that reflect the gift recipient, both givers and receivers feel closer together after a gift representing the giver has been exchanged.

For more information:

Lara Aknin, Department of Psychology, laknin@sfu.ca, 778.782.9563, 604.729.9571 (cell)