Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found that being selfish in certain contexts makes people happier than giving in to social pressure to do for others. They have published a paper describing their study and results in the journal Psychological Science. LiveScience in reporting on the study says that the study shows that common sense sometimes should not be overlooked as it might truly indicate which is the healthiest approach to take when interacting with other people. Mail Online notes that when reading the results of the research, it’s important to note the most important caveat, namely happiness can be obtained from selfish behavior only when we are able to avoid feeling guilty about our actions.
To come to these conclusions, the researchers ran several experiments. In the first, 261 undergraduate students were each given three dollars, under three different scenarios. One group was told to donate the money to a charity, another group were told to keep the money and a third were told they could do whatever they wanted with the money. Afterwards, all of the volunteers were quizzed by the researchers and asked to rate their level of happiness, fairness, etc. The team found that those that kept the money but didn’t feel guilty about it were the happiest with their decision.
In another experiment, volunteers were broken in to three groups. The first was allowed to choose between receiving a $5 gift card for a charity or another for spa. The second group had the choice of a gift card for a charity and Starbucks, and the third group had the choice of choosing between cards for donation to two different charities. Once again, the volunteers were interviewed after making their choice and once again the researchers found that the happiest volunteers were those that used the gift card for themselves but didn’t feel any guilt about it.
The researchers noted that the element of choice was critical – simply receiving gift cards wasn’t enough, they had to be given the opportunity to choose whether to indulge themselves or use the cards for someone else. They also note that the results don’t show that people are inherently selfish; it’s more that under certain circumstances, those people who are able to give to themselves without reservation are the ones who turn out to be happiest with their decisions. They add that the results appear to be immediately applicable to people in their daily lives, for those who choose to follow their inner voice.