How Donating Money Can Make You Happier, Explained
Singer is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics in the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University and Laureate Professor in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne.
In 2013 he founded The Life You Can Save along with Charlie Bresler. His most recent book is The Most Good You Can Do.
He teaches and lectures about the ways in which we can change the culture of giving in affluent cultures. Following is a transcript of the video.
Peter Singer: I’m Peter Singer. I’m the Ira W. DeCamp professor of bioethics at the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University.
There’s very good evidence that if you start from a low base — you don’t have very much money — getting more money will make you better off. Up to — in the United States — roughly $70,000, it’s pretty clear that getting up to that level will make you happier with your life.
But once you get above around $70,000, this effect starts to drop off very dramatically. The marginal utility of any extra income starts to fall. And the line doesn’t go quite flat, but it goes almost flat after that point.
Whereas, on the other hand, there’s very good evidence that people who are generous, people who think of others, people who don’t just think of themselves are significantly happier in their lives. So that’s why I would argue that once you’ve got past that $70,000 level, giving some of what you have above that is going to actually make you better off not worse off.
There’s lots of good research linking happiness and donating to charity at all sorts of different levels. For example, in one experiment people were asked to come in and they were given a modest amount of money. And they were randomly selected and some of them were told, “Go and spend this on yourself; buy something nice for yourself.” And others were told, “Go and spend this on someone else; do something that’s good for someone else.”
And at the end of the day, they were asked to come back and they were asked to rate how well their day had gone. And there was a significant difference. And the people who were asked to the spend money on others and who did that reported much more positively about their day than the others did.
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