Lara Aknin

Doing good = feeling good, says researcher

Research on money and happiness highlighted at SFU Surrey lecture Nov. 6.

People feel better when they spend money on others rather than themselves, says Lara Aknin, an assistant professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University.

Aknin will share her research on generosity, money and happiness as the next speaker in SFU’s President’s Faculty Lecture Series on Thursday (Nov. 6) at the Surrey campus.

Aknin’s research focuses on the emotional consequences of kind or generous behaviour, and her studies on spending money on others speak to the idea that money can buy happiness.

“Much of the research I have conducted examines people’s perceptions of the money and happiness relationship,” says Aknin.

“While many perspectives of human nature argue that people are selfish, a growing body of research suggests that when we help others we experience a boost in happiness from doing so,” says Aknin. “These findings suggest that doing good can lead to feeling good.”

That may be true among even some of the youngest humans, Aknin says. Her team earlier found that children as young as two were happier giving treats away than they were when receiving the same treats themselves. The researchers are currently carrying out follow up studies to better understand the origins of emotionally rewarding prosocial acts.

Aknin’s interest in generosity developed as a university student after volunteering in the UBC psychology department’s emotion lab.

“I saw how the experience of human behaviour becomes much more interesting when emotions enter the picture,” says Aknin. “And while there is ample research on human emotion, I discovered that there was actually very little examining what makes people happy. I became excited that, through science, I could look further into this.”

Aknin began her research in 2008 and discovered the potential for a “positive feedback loop” between generosity and happiness. Among her latest research, Aknin is conducting field studies to determine whether school-based philanthropy programs lead to positive outcomes in schools and beyond, through new friendships, social connection, and a responsibility to community.

The lecture is at 7 p.m. at SFU Surrey, 13450 102 Ave. Pre-register at

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