I am a researcher at the Happier Lives Institute. In my work I assess the cost-effectiveness of life-improving interventions in terms of subjective well-being, right now I'm working on a meta-analysis of cash transfers impacts on SWB and mental health. Hopefully we can improve institutional decision-making by increasing our confidence in the which measures of well-being are most accurate without triggering hyphen-inflation.


Some extremely rough research on giving and happiness

This an interesting topic, but one I haven't looked into much. I would like to see more work on this because while some claim that the link between prosocial spending and well-being is universal (Aknin et al., 2013) I wonder if that was a bit premature .  The study I reference found cross sectional correlations between subjective well-being and prosocial spending in 136 countries and followed this up with a few small experiments that concurred. 

Some other literature in the area for what it's worth: A series of recent pre-registered experiments (n =~ 7k) found mixed results (2 positive, 1 null) on the effect of  prosocial spending (not giving exactly) on happiness (Aknin et al., 2020). Another experiment (n = 615) finds that people do not adapt to giving like they adapt to spending on themselves (O'Brien and Kassirer, 2018).  Several studies find that the degree of warm glow is increased by being informed about its impact and having a greater orientation towards "meaning and authenticity" (n = 126) (Lai et al., 2020), another found that happier giving experiences were marked by feeling as if the choice was freely chosen, has a clear impact or is made towards a cause that the giver is connected to (Lok & Dunn, 2020 ).

Chapter four of the 2019 World Happiness Report reviews some of the evidence of prosocial behavior and subjective-well being (although it does not appear to mention the studies I reference above).

Now comes the controversial line from a recent study (n = 325) that takes a different tact: "Regression results showed that saving a life decreased long-run happiness by 0.26 SD (P < 0.01) (Table 1, column 4) relative to receiving money, conditional on individual-specific baseline levels of happiness." from Falk & Graeber (2020). 

Some comments on the above study (I haven't look at it in detail): By long-run they mean four weeks and they think saving a life means saving a life. 

Under conservative assumptions, a donation of 350 euros—roughly $400 at the time—covers all costs incurred by Operation ASHA to identify, treat, and cure five more patients, which is equivalent to saving one additional human life in expectation. 

Another relevant quote from the Falk & Graeber paper: 

A positive correlation between prosocial behavior and happiness is a central empirical justifi- cation for the quest to donate more. Philosopher Peter Singer forcefully argues that altruism is not about self-sacrifice, but that the greatest happiness arises from helping other people (33).