Self-Interest Without Selfishness: The Hedonic Benefit of Imposed Self-Interest
Jonathan Berman & Deborah Small
Psychological Science, forthcoming
Abstract: Despite commonsense appeal, the link between self-interest and happiness remains elusive. One reason why individuals may not feel satisfied with self-interest is that they feel uneasy about sacrificing the needs of others for their own gain. We propose that externally imposing self-interest allows individuals to enjoy self-benefiting outcomes that are untainted by self-reproach for failing to help others. Study 1 demonstrated that an imposed self-interested option (a reward) leads to greater happiness than does choosing between a self-interested option and a prosocial option (a charity donation). Study 2 demonstrated that this effect is not driven by choice in general; rather, it is the specific trade-off between benefiting the self and benefiting others that inhibits happiness gained from self-interest. We theorize that the agency inherent in choice reduces the hedonic value of self-interest. Results of Study 3 find support for this mechanism.
This makes a lot of sense. People would feel terrible if they robbed a liquor store and took the money. But if the STATE takes the money at gunpoint, and "gives" it you....cool! Now I'm happy! Because I didn't do the stealing, I just get the benefit of the stealing!
Nod to Kevin Lewis