Norton asked questions to assess subjective wealth. Even when he compensated for income, donations predicted better feelings of subjective wealth.
Giving $500, he calculated, has the same effect on feelings of subjective wealth as earning an extra $10,000 in income.
In related research, Norton found that people who volunteer their time to help sick children or for other charitable pursuits feel they have more time than those who don't volunteer. The thinking, he suspects, is that if they have time to give away, they must have plenty of time.
"To me this is interesting because it is counterintuitive," said James Maddux, professor emeritus in the department of psychology at George Mason University.
The driving force for feeling wealthier after donating, Maddux agreed, is the perception of wealth. "I think it's the sense that if I have enough money to afford to give some away, I must be better off than I thought I was," he said.
"People may feel more satisfied with life when they feel wealthier," he added.
The new research also ties in to other studies finding that people are always measuring themselves against others, Maddux said. "What seems to matter psychologically to people is not objectively what money they have -- but what they have, what they own, compared to other people."
Data and conclusions from the studies should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
To learn more about money and happiness, visit the American Psychological Association.
SOURCES: Michael Norton, Ph.D., associate professor of marketing, Harvard Business School, Boston; co-aut
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