Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2009

Feeling Good about Giving: The Benefits (and Costs) of Self-Interested Charitable Behavior

by Lalin Anik, Lara B. Aknin, Michael I. Norton and Elizabeth W. Dunn

Abstract

While lay intuitions and pop psychology suggest that helping others leads to higher levels of happiness, the existing evidence only weakly supports this causal claim: Research in psychology, economics, and neuroscience exploring the benefits of charitable giving has been largely correlational, leaving open the question of whether giving causes greater happiness. In this chapter, we have two primary aims. First, we review the evidence linking charitable behavior and happiness. We present research from a variety of samples (adults, children and primates) and methods (correlational and experimental) demonstrating that happier people give more, that giving indeed causes increased happiness, and that these two relationships may operate in a circular fashion. Second, we consider whether advertising these benefits of charitable giving—asking people to give in order to be happy—may have the perverse consequence of decreasing charitable giving, crowding out intrinsic motivations to give by corrupting a purely social act with economic considerations.

Keywords: Giving and Philanthropy; Research; Behavior; Happiness; Motivation and Incentives;

Citation:

Anik, Lalin, Lara B. Aknin, Michael I. Norton, and Elizabeth W. Dunn. "Feeling Good about Giving: The Benefits (and Costs) of Self-Interested Charitable Behavior." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 10-012, August 2009.