Sometimes I think about one of my first birthdays in China and a cultural learning experience that I had. Since it was my birthday several of us went out to dinner to celebrate. One of my ex-pat friends who had been in China a long time leaned over to me in the middle of the meal and whispered in my ear, “In America when it’s your birthday, everybody treats you to a free meal. In China when it’s your birthday, you buy the meal for everyone else to celebrate.” Fortunately, I brought enough money with me to handle the unexpected expense.
A similar twist is seen in China on how you think about and talk to your mother on your birthday. In America, your birthday is all about you. In China, your birthday is about your mother. It’s important to remember to thank her for giving birth to you.
That may be a little bit backward for Westerners, but it certainly makes more sense, doesn’t it?
This idea got me thinking about giving and receiving. There’s a well-known Western proverb that says, “It is better to give than to receive.” When we’re children we don’t really believe that much and we think it’s just a trick our parents are playing on us so that we will be nice. But when we grow up a little, we find that it’s actually true.
Now science even backs up that idea. The American Psychological Association in their Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study* that supports the idea that we benefit more from giving than receiving, at least on a psychological level.
It seems to be true in every part of the world.
Researchers found that in 120 of 136 countries there was a positive relationship between spending money on others and personal well-being. This was true across many nations and in every part of the world.
Another study found the same thing to be true in both Canada and Uganda.
It seems to be true regardless of wealth or poverty.
In one study, participants were asked about a time when they either spent money on themselves or when they spent money on others. After this they reported how happy they felt. The people who reported on spending money on others were happier than the ones who reported spending money on themselves whether they were rich or poor. That same study was duplicated in India between different classes (rich and poor) and found the same results.
Other researchers found that regardless of income when people were given a small amount of money to buy a treat for themselves or for a child in a local hospital, they felt much better when the money was spent on a sick child.
Maybe your mom was right the whole time! Be sure th thank her on your next birthday.
Is it better to give or receive? Please post your thoughts.
* Aknin, L. B., Barrington-Leigh, C. P., Dunn, E. W., Helliwell, J. F., Burns, J., Biswas-Diener, R., Kemeza, I., Nyende, P., Ashton-James, C. E., & Norton, M. I. Pro-social Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, (in press) 2013 DOI: 10.1037/a0031578