The following is an excerpt from Katherine S. Nelson et al., Do unto others or treat yourself? The effects of prosocial and self-focused behavior on psychological flourishing, 16(6) Emotion 850-861 (Sept 2016). View Study Here.
…As people do nice things for others, they may feel greater joy, contentment, and love, which in turn promote greater overall well-being and improve social relationships and so on.
Indeed, substantial evidence indicates that experiencing frequent positive emotions leads people to be more trusting of others, to form more inclusive social groups, and to include others in their sense of self.
However, in contrast, doing nice things for oneself does not seem to have the same effects.
[It] does not appear to lead individuals to feel greater positive emotions and fewer negative emotions, perhaps because the hedonic benefits are short-lived and/or are neutralized by hedonic costs (like guilt).
In addition, self-focuses behaviors in the current study were often solitary and may have offered fewer opportunities to improve relationships. Indeed, including others in one’s experiences appears to be an important component for such experiences to improve well-being.
The results of this study contribute to a growing literature supporting the benefits of prosocial behavior and challenge the popular perception that focusing on oneself is an optimal strategy to boost one’s mood.
People striving for happiness may be tempted to treat themselves. Our results, however, suggest that they may be more successful if they opt to treat someone else instead.
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