Mystery Couple Spent $2 Million Distributing Money To People Around The World – Here’s What Happened To The Recipients
By Leslie Albrecht
People in seven countries each received a $10,000 gift and had three months to spend it in a study of monetary windfalls and happiness
Here is a new argument for giving away your money instead of keeping it for yourself: you will generate significantly more happiness in the world.
People who received $10,000 in cash in a global experiment reported noticeable improvements in their well-being, especially if they were of modest means. But even relatively wealthy people felt happier after receiving the boon.
These are some of the findings of a new study with unusual elements, including an anonymous donation from a wealthy couple whose identities remain secret even to researchers.
“Our data provide the clearest evidence yet that private citizens can improve net global happiness through voluntary redistribution to those who have less,” wrote co-authors Elizabeth Dunn and Ryan Dwyer. Their research, titled “Wealth Redistribution Promotes Happiness,” was published in the latest edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study tracked the happiness levels of 300 people in seven countries; 200 of them received surprise cash gifts of $10,000 and 100 did not. People who received the money were told to spend it within three months on whatever they wanted, although they were not allowed to put it in an investment account or use for illegal activities.
The researchers spoke regularly with all the participants, including the 100 who did not receive the money, monitoring their “subjective well-being” by asking open-ended interview questions unrelated to the money.
People who received the $10,000 “became significantly more satisfied with life” than those who did not receive the money, according to the study. Recipients maintained their happiness gains through the end of the six-month study, “demonstrating that the money had long-lasting benefits for well-being, even several months after the money was spent”, wrote the authors.
Meanwhile, people who did not receive the money saw no change in their level of happiness.
Where cash transfers got the best return on investment
Happiness gains were most striking among recipients in low-income countries. It may not sound so surprising, but the study provided researchers with a unique opportunity to quantify the impact, Dunn said. By assigning point values to participants’ happiness levels, the researchers found that the happiness benefit of receiving money was three times higher for people living in low-income countries compared to those in low-income countries. high income.
This calculation could be helpful to anyone interested in getting the most out of their money when donating, Dunn noted, including adherents of “effective altruism” – an evidence-based approach to charitable giving that focuses on the maximum impact per dollar spent. .
“You get a much bigger return on investment from a happiness perspective, kind of an emotional return on investment, by donating that money to low-income countries,” Dunn told MarketWatch.
People with household incomes of up to $123,000 saw measurable improvements in their happiness after receiving the $10,000. “Given that 99% of individuals earn less than this amount, these results suggest that cash transfers could benefit the vast majority of the world’s population,” the authors write in the study.
Of course, it’s possible that the wealthy couple who donated $2 million felt a decrease in their own happiness when the money left their account; Previous research has shown that even people who already have a lot of money see their life satisfaction decrease when they lose money, Dunn noted.
But that was likely more than offset by the happiness gains recipients experienced. After compiling the happiness levels of the participants, the researchers estimated that by giving this money, the donating couple “generated 225 times more happiness than they would have had if they had kept the money for themselves. , concentrated in his own hands,” Dunn told MarketWatch.
Anonymous donors wanted to “contribute significantly to the science of human nature”
The social science experiment had an unusual origin story. It all started when the wealthy couple approached TED, the non-profit organization that hosts speakers on a range of topics, with the idea of donating money to individuals. The couple “wanted to donate a large amount of money and they wanted to do it in a way that would not only help people, but also contribute meaningfully to the science of human nature,” said TED founder Chris Anderson, in a video. which was shown to the participants.
Anderson reached out to Dunn, who had given a TED talk on generosity, to see if she wanted to analyze the data from the experiment. Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and author of a book called “Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending,” said she jumped at the chance in part because previous research on cash transfers had mainly focused on low-income recipients. , and it was an opportunity to see how cash gifts affected people in various socio-economic contexts.
TED conducted the study and shared the data with Dunn and Dwyer.
There were some limitations to the results: the study focused on a limited time period (six months, from March to September 2021) and participants were recruited on Twitter and had to be English speakers. All were well-educated and relatively liberal in their politics, but they came from a variety of economic backgrounds, with some living in low-income countries and struggling to make ends meet, and others living in the United States and earning over six figures. . Participants were located in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Kenya, Indonesia and Brazil.
Some attendees didn’t believe the ‘mystery experience’ was real
Study participants only knew they were signing up for a “mystery experience” when they were recruited. The 200 people who received the cash gifts were told about the surprise windfall in Anderson’s video, in which he read a letter from the donor couple. But even then, some recipients didn’t believe it was real, Dunn said. One later said he didn’t believe the experience was genuine until the money appeared in his bank account.
Some of the recipients were asked to keep the money secret, while others were asked to share the news with friends and family and tweet about how they spent their windfall. Searching Twitter for #mysteryexperiment appears to show some of these posts, with one recipient saying they bought a car for their sister, and another saying they splurged on expensive heirloom beans.
(TED representatives could not be reached for comment immediately. MarketWatch reached out to nine people who appeared to be involved in the experiment, based on their tweets. They either declined to comment or did not respond. )
Dwyer, who was a doctoral student at the University of British Columbia when he worked on the paper, is now a senior researcher at the Happier Lives Institute, a British non-profit that studies cost-effective ways to improve the well-being of people around the world.
The findings come as the idea of direct cash transfers to individuals – both as public policy and as a way to make charitable donations – is gaining more attention. GiveDirectly, a non-profit organization that sends money unconditionally to people living in extreme poverty, is probably the most well-known group using this method of giving.
“My biggest and most cherished hope for this study is that people copy it, that people think it’s something they can do,” Dunn said. “It doesn’t have to be $2 million. Even a much smaller amount of money can make a difference.”
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