Lead author Lara Aknin of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver said feeling good about spending money on someone else rather than for personal benefit may be a universal response among people in both impoverished countries and rich nations.
Aknin and colleagues found a positive relationship between personal well-being and spending on others in 120 of 136 countries covered in the 2006-08 Gallup World Poll, which comprised 234,917 individuals, half of whom were male, with an average age of 38.
The link between well-being and spending on others was significant in every region of the world, and it was not affected by other factors among those surveyed, such as income, social support, perceived freedom and perceived national corruption, the study said.
The results were also similar in several experiments the researchers themselves conducted with participants in wealthy and poor countries.
For example, they researchers compared responses from 820 individuals recruited mostly from universities in Canada and Uganda, who wrote about when they either spent money on themselves or on others. They were than asked to report how happy they felt. People who remembered spending money on someone else felt happier than those who recalled spending money on themselves, the study said.
The findings were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.