People the term “prosocial” describes a positive
Peoplestrive for happiness.
Some synonyms of happiness are: contentment, enjoyment,well-being or prosperity. (Thesaurus, n.d.) People can apply several techniquesto achieve their goal, such as prosocial spending.
In psychology, the term”prosocial” describes a positive behaviour which is helpful, and intended topromote social acceptance and friendship. (Oxford Dictionary, n.d.) Accordingto the prior definition, “prosocial spending” describes the spending behaviourin which one spends money on others instead of oneself. Psychologists andSociologists argue that prosocial spending enhances the chances to achievegreater happiness.
In the following review, we will look at three different articles,concerning the idea of prosocial spending and its effect on happiness. Each ofthe articles will emphasise different viewpoints, which will be evaluated,compared and contrasted. Thearticle “spending money on others promotes happiness” (2008) discusses in whatcircumstances and extent spending money influences happiness. Although a lot ofresearch on this topic has already been done, they hypothesise that spendingmoney on others might have more positive impact on happiness than spendingmoney on oneself.
Researched by Elizabeth W. Dunn, Lara B. Aknin and Michael I.Norton, this study provides us with the finding that spending money for aprosocial purpose predicts greater happiness both cross-sectionally andlongitudinally. Intheir article, the researchers suggest that how much people are spending moneyis at least as important as how much they earn. (Elizabeth W. Dunn, 2008) Thus,a cross-sectional study has been conducted and has proven that income has areliable, but weak effect on happiness. However, greater wealth is indeed aweak predictor for happiness, because people rather invest their increasedwealth in luxury goods than into pursuits, which provide long lastinghappiness.
This can be explained by the phenomenon that the more an individualthinks of money, the less likely a person will be spending it on prosocialpurposes, such as spending time with others or donating for charity. These arethe kinds of behaviour that promote happiness the most. Consequently, thisleads to the argument that investing income on others rather than on oneself islikely to have significant benefits for one’s own happiness. Intheir study, 632 subjects were asked to rate their general happiness, reporttheir annual income and estimate how much they spend in a typical month onbills and expenses, gifts to themselves, gifts for others and donations forcharity. In this questionnaire, the first two questions were grouped and named”personal spending”, the latter two were also grouped and called “prosocialspending”, which was needed to evaluate the data.
The researchers found thatpersonal spending wasn’t related to happiness, while higher prosocial spending wasrelated to significantly greater happiness. Another test has been conducted inorder to prove the hypothesis, 16 employees’ levels of happiness were examinedone month before and approximately 2 months after they received aprofit-sharing. In the later questionnaire, they were asked to report on whatthey spent the extra money they got from the company. This study provided theresearchers with the same findings as the previous survey, which supportedtheir hypothesis.
A last experiment was conducted in which 46 participants wererandomly assigned to the following two conditions: all participants got $5 or$20, half of the participants were told to use the money for personal spending,the others were told to use the money for prosocial spending. The prosocialspending group experienced greater happiness, regardless of whether they hadgotten $5 or $20, leading to the same outcome as the previous twoinvestigations. No significant difference was found between the levels ofhappiness when it comes to the amount of money spent. Basedon the prior paper, Lara B. Aknin states in her article “It’s the RecipientThat Counts: Spending Money on Strong Social Ties Leads to Greater Happinessthan Spending on Weak Social Ties” (2011) that the emotional outcome of spendingmoney on others differs depending on whether the target is a strong or weaksocial tie.
In this study, the distinction between strong ties and weak ties ismade, which subcategorises prosocial spending. (Lara B. Aknin, Gillian M.Sandstorm, Elizabeth W. Dunn, Michael I. Norton, 2011) This distinction hasbeen done, because the level of intimacy rather predicts the strength of arelationship than the type of relationship.
Sociologists label weak ties asrelationships that involve less frequent contact, less emotional intensity andless intimacy, whereas strong ties are in contrast to them. Whenindividuals are spending money on each other, it provides them with theopportunity to spend time with the targeted person. This behaviour leads to asatisfying relationship with the targeted person who is most likely someonewith whom one has a strong social tie, which results in greater happiness. Relationshipswith weak ties or strangers can also affect our happiness providing us withsimilar beneficence, although not as effectively as the previous model. Thereby,it is most interesting to find supporting evidence for their hypothesis.Researchersassigned 79 participants to one of two spending recall conditions. They had torecall the last time they spent approximately $20 on either someone theyconsider to be a strong social tie or a weak one. When doing so, they werereported their current affect levels on the Positive and Negative AffectSchedule (PANAS).
Furthermore, they reported details about the spendingexperience, including how long ago the event has occurred. Researchers havepredicted that recalling a purchase made for a strong social tie would revealhigher levels of happiness. The prediction was supported by the PANAS scale.Inthis study subjects were asked to recall prior spending experiences, which ledthe researcher to their conclusion. Although the researchers came to satisfyingresults, they could have conducted another run, in which participants would haveparticularly been asked to engage in one of the conditions. The results of thisexperimental run should meet the findings from the previous observations inorder to strengthen their hypothesis. In case the newly gained data woulddiffer from the former ones, the long lasting of emotional response could bequestioned. Furthermore, comparing to the aforementioned article, this articleprovides less observational or experimental runs, even if the proposedexperiment had been conducted.
Therefore, it can be assumed that the latterarticle may be not as reliability as the article on which it is based.Basedon previous studies, Mana Yamaguchi et al. published their study “Experientialpurchases and prosocial spending promote happiness by enhancing socialrelationships” in 2015 and conducted their research in Japan. The study showswhether undergraduate students’ consumption behaviours during summer breakwould be associated with their post-break happiness and whether theconsumption-happiness relationship would be mediated by a positive influence ontheir social relationships. (Mana Yamaguchi, Ayumi Masuchi, Daisuki Nakanishi,Sayaka Suga, Naoki Konishi, Ye-Yun Yu, Yohsuke Ohtsubo, 2015). Considered thatthe research is based on western outcomes, it takes into account that VanBoven’s and Gilovichs’s (2003) work revealed that the people felt happier afterspending money on experiences, than on material items while Caprariello’s andRies’s work revealed that the social purchase made respondents happier thansolidary purchases. Therefore, they sorted out that relationships are essentialto the happiness-enhancing effect on experiential purchases. It is claimed thatwealth is a source of happiness and feelings of subjective well-being, althoughits effect is modest.
Therefore, the mere possession of money seems to be lessimportant than the way it is invested in order to achieve greater happiness andsubjective well-being. Thespending on experiential purchases and prosocial purchases were more likely tohave a positive influence on social relationships than luxury and self-enrichingpurchases, stated by M. Yamaguchi et al., with the two following hypotheses:”Experiential purchases during summer break make the purchasers happier whenthey had a positive influence on the purchasers’ social relationships” and”Prosocial spending during summer break makes the purchasers happier when theyhad a positive influence on the purchasers’ social relationships.Inorder to find supporting evidence for their claim, they assigned 1523undergraduate participants from 4 different university were asked to fill out afive-sectioned questionnaire, containing a section comprising a brief test ofthe five-factor personality traits and two items measuring happiness, a secondcomprising a proxy measure of the students’ financial resources, and the thirdto fifth section asking about participants’ experiential, luxury and prosocialspending. The obtained data supports their hypotheses. Therefore, bothprosocial and experiential spending were associated with greater post-breakhappiness given that these purchases influenced the participants’ socialrelations in a positive manor.
The effects remained significant aftercontrolling for respondents’ personality traits, financial situation and sex.Sincethe study consists of only undergraduates, it is hard to generalise theirfindings on other social groups than students. Most of the subjects might befinancially dependent on their parents, which might interfere with theirconsumption behaviours. They would probably spend their money differently if itwas their own. Lastly, the reliability of this article can be questioned,because it is based on western psychological findings, while it is conductedwithin an eastern culture. This may also interfere with the generalisation onwestern societies.
Inconclusion, Elizabeth W. Dunn’s article provides us with the finding thatprosocial spending leads to happiness. Elizabeth W.
Dunn et al. conductedseveral investigations, giving more information about the extent of the effect.For instance, the amount of money spent on others doesn’t affect the happinessexperienced nor is greater wealth a reliable predictor for happiness. Based onthis, a later study has been conducted by Lara B. Aknin et al., investigatingthe beneficence of strong social ties.
They concluded that spending money onstrong ties is more likely to lead to greater happiness. It strengthens interhumanrelations, thus raising the quality and quantity of time spent together. Thisstudy contains only one investigation, therefore an experimental run isadvisable in order to get more insight into the lasting effect of spendingexperiences. Lastly, M. Yamaguchi et al. demonstrate that next to prosocialspending, experiential spending is the most lucrative investment of all,because it provides both the targeted person and the purchaser with common spenttime.
Their hypothesis is supported by the data obtained. However, it isuncertain if their findings are reliable, because it is performed based onwestern studies and it is questionable if it can be applied to western culturesor others than undergraduates. The three studies in combination give anextensive insight into the thematic of the interaction of spending money andgaining happiness.