CHICAGO-A research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business found that people's happiness did not decline, or declined much slower, if they repeatedly bestowed gifts on others rather than repeatedly receiving those same gifts themselves.

The researchers conducted two studies. In one experiment, university student participants received five dollars every day for five days, and they were required to spend the money on the exact same thing each time.

The researchers randomly assigned participants to spend the money either on themselves or on someone else, such as by leaving money in a tip jar at the same cafe or making an online donation to the same charity every day. The participants reflected on their spending experience and overall happiness at the end of each day.

The data collected from a total of 96 participants showed that participants started off with similar levels of self-reported happiness and those who spent money on themselves reported a steady decline in happiness over the five-day period. However, happiness did not seem to fade for those who gave their money to someone else. The joy from giving for the fifth time in a row was just as strong as it was at the start.

The researchers then conducted a second experiment online, which allowed them to keep the tasks consistent across participants. In the experiment, 502 participants played 10 rounds of a word puzzle game. They won five cents per round, which they either kept or donated to a charity of their choice. After each round, participants disclosed the degree to which winning made them feel happy, elated, and joyful.

Again, the self-reported happiness of those who gave their winnings away declined far more slowly than did the happiness reported by those who kept their winnings.

Further analyses ruled out some potential alternative explanations, such as the possibility that participants who gave to others had to think longer and harder about what to give, which could promote higher happiness.

The researchers note that when people focus on an outcome, such as getting paid, they can easily compare outcomes, which diminishes their sensitivity to each experience. When people focus on an action, such as donating to a charity, they may focus less on comparison and instead experience each act of giving as a unique happiness-inducing event.

People may also be slower to adapt to happiness generated by giving because giving to others helps one maintain his prosocial reputation, reinforcing sense of social connection and belonging, the researchers noted. The study has been published in Psychological Science.