Money can buy happiness -- as long as it is spent on other people or on pro-social causes, scientists said Thursday.
Research to be published in the journal Science on Friday proves the scientific grounds behind the adage it's emotionally better to give than to receive, said Elizabeth Dunn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia in this city on Canada's Pacific Coast.
The researchers ran three experiments to measure how happy people felt after either spending money on themselves, or giving money to pro-social causes such as buying someone a meal or a charitable donation.
"We found that people who reported spending more money on others were happier," said Dunn, lead author of the study co-authored by master's student Lara Aknin and Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School.
Dunn said previous studies found a correlation between happiness and charitable giving, but the new research revealed that pro-social giving is an actual cause of happiness.
"We provide the evidence for this idea that's been around for a while," Dunn told AFP.
The first study simply measured how happy 630 Americans said they felt, rated on a scale of one to five, after they either spent money on themselves or gave to others. Those who gave reported being happier.
The second study measured the change in happiness of workers at a company after they spent a profit-sharing bonus of between 3,000 dollars and 8,000 dollars.
"Those who spent more of their bonus on pro-social spending were happier," said Dunn, with the difference between spending none of the bonus on others compared to spending one-third on others showing a full 20 percent increase in happiness.
What affected happiness, she added, "was not so much the size of the bonus but how they spent it ... the message is not that people should get high-paying jobs to earn as much as possible and spend it on others."
In the third experiment, university students in Vancouver were given either five dollars or 20 dollars and instructed to spend the money that same day.
Half were told to spend the money on themselves, while the rest were told to treat others. At the end of the day, students who spent their money on others reported being happier, said the report.
"The vast majority of research in this area has been to examine the relationship between how much money people make and how happy they are," said Dunn. "What we did instead is to look at how people use what they have."
Dunn said she next wants to investigate whether giving time or volunteering services would boost happiness as much as giving money.