issues and experts

Generous ex-offenders find happiness

June 20, 2019

Ian Bryce, University Communications and Marketing, 236-880-2187,


New research from Simon Fraser University has found that ex-offenders who give money to charity feel happier than those who spend money on themselves.

Published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, “Does helping promote well-being in at-risk youth and ex-offender samples?” measured hundreds of ex-offenders feelings of happiness and well-being.

Participants were randomly assigned to two groups: one where participants were given a small amount of money to spend on themselves and another where participants were given a small amount of money to make a charitable donation. Neither group knew each other existed. Results found that those who gave to charities reported greater happiness and well-being than those who spent money on themselves.

“Not much research has tested the emotional benefits of generous behaviour among antisocial populations,” says Kate Hanniball, SFU psychology researcher who led the study. “We hope that these findings offer a humanizing perspective for populations that are frequently stigmatized as irredeemable.”

While research has linked generosity to happiness with other populations, this is the first study to examine the link among people with anti-social tendencies.

The findings, Hannibal says, could lead to new programming for prisons and correctional centres.

“Pro-socially focused interventions that focus on the positive might be one way to change anti-social trajectories when they are implemented alongside well-established offender rehabilitation programs,” says Hanniball.

“The way the criminal justice system is run doesn’t afford much sympathy or empathy for offenders,” says Hanniball. “Humanizing this population and figuring out how to work from a strengths-based perspective instead of a deficit-focus perspective is empowering.”