Giving to Others Makes Kids Happy

What makes people happy? Psychology research is constantly finding new ways to answer this question. Does happiness mean hope? Does happiness mean purpose? Does happiness mean Nutella? While we don’t know for sure (even though Nutella surely makes me happy), we are slowly but surely finding indications of what may make people happy. The current research was carried out at the University of British Columbia in order to find out what impact giving has on children.

The Thought Process

Traditional economic theory has supposed that people are motivated by their selfish interests. However, individuals from all strata of society, in all societies, often put themselves in some inconvenience in order to help out their communities and surroundings. This gives rise to a paradox, wherein at one end people look out only for themselves but at the other, they are going out of their way to provide for their communities. So how can we bridge this apparent disconnect? One way to explain this paradox is to look at this pro-social behavior as an evolutionary mechanism. So, the scientists of the study looked at ways to see if we are born in a way that predisposes us to help others.

What they Did

Study: The toddlers were introduced to a puppet and given 8 treats. Then each experimenter gave a treat to the puppet. Then in an alternating order, either a toddler was asked to give a ‘found’ treat to the puppet or give their own treat to the puppet. 20 toddlers were told that they could touch the puppets and that the puppets liked treats. The Puppet and the child received treats in separate bowls which the puppet ‘ate’ and the children were also allowed to eat their treats. 4 treats were then put in the children’s bowl and the children were asked to give a treat to the puppet. Again, the children either gave their own treat to the puppet or gave another treat that the experimenter had ‘found’.

What they Found

  1. Toddlers were happier when they were giving treats than receiving treats.
  2. Toddlers were happier when they gave away their own treat than if they gave away a treat they had found.

What this Means for Us

While it’s important to teach children to be self-sufficient, it is just as important to teach children to give back to society. The act can be as small as volunteering at a religious organization or it could be as big as raising thousands of rupees or dollars for some cause. The act itself and the intent are important, the amount or the size of the act is not as important.