With winter holidays right around the corner, those who engage in the exchange of gifts might experience a type of relatively long-lasting form of pleasure, namely – the pleasure of giving.
According to a new study, forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science, giving to others might be a way of throwing a wrench in hedonic adaptation – the human tendency to quickly return to a fairly stable level of happiness after both positive and negative events – characteristic of most enjoyable things in life.
Contrary to a number of past studies which indicated that sustained happiness requires novelty, the new research suggests that “repeated giving, even in identical ways to identical others, may continue to feel relatively fresh and relatively pleasurable the more that we do it,” explained co-author on the study Ed O’Brien.
In the first experiment, 96 university students received $5 every day for 5 days in a row, and were asked to either spend the money on themselves or on others, such as by leaving money in the tip jar at a café or donating to charity online.
Results showed that students who gave their money away experienced the same level of happiness in each case, while those in the first group saw their happiness steadily decline over the course of the experiment.
In the second experiment, 502 participants were required to play a word puzzle game and either keep or donate the money they had won during each round. The results were nearly identical – those who chose to give experienced the same amount of pleasure regardless of how many times they have done it.
After testing twelve alternative explanations, the authors found none of them to be convincing, as “there were very few incidental differences between ‘get’ and ‘give’ conditions, and the key difference in happiness remained unchanged when controlling for these other variables in the analyses,” claimed O’Brien.
The results may possibly be explained by the human proclivity to treat acts of giving as unique experiences, or a boost in the sense of social connectedness and improved pro-social reputation which could result from being generous to others.
Based on these outcomes, the research team now plans to test “repeated conversation and social experiences, which also may get better rather than worse over time,” said O’Brien.