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Get happy! SFU researcher explores the power of positive giving

Lara Aknin
Lara Aknin, psychology professor and director of SFU's Helping and Happiness Lab.

As donors, you understand how good it feels to give back to your community.

Social science conducted at Simon Fraser University supports what many faiths, cultures and benefactors like you have long espoused—it truly is better to give than receive.

“Giving to others promotes well-being,” says Lara Aknin, an assistant professor of psychology and the director of the Helping and Happiness Lab at SFU. “Our findings suggest that doing good leads to feeling good.”

Motivated by a desire to help others live healthier, more fulfilling lives, Aknin’s research explores social connections, what makes people happy and the predictors and consequences of kind or generous behaviour.

She and her collaborators have published results demonstrating that spending as little as $5 on others (prosocial spending) may lead to higher levels of happiness than spending the same amount on oneself (personal spending). Additional studies found similar results in culturally and economically diverse countries around the globe and in small-scale traditional societies, supporting the possibility that the emotional rewards of giving may be a shared feature of human behaviour.

Even toddlers—known for their frequent selfish behaviour—display similar reactions. In Aknin’s study conducted with children under the age of two, youngsters showed larger smiles when they gave treats away than when they received the same treats themselves. It’s believed children this young have yet to understand the social mores about generosity, suggesting that the warm glow experienced after prosocial behaviour could be innate. Her lab is currently carrying out follow-up studies to better understand the origins of emotionally rewarding prosocial acts.

Aknin’s research has been featured in more than 300 media outlets worldwide, including CNN, Forbes and the New York Times. It is just one example of the incredible work being done at SFU because people like you choose to give. So sit back and bask in a happy glow!