Gordon Gecko said it first. Well, possibly he said it first in an Oliver Stone movie, but I think you get the point.
Greed, he said, for lack of a better word, is good.
It turns out, old Gordon wasn’t just some sort of bottom-dwelling scumsucker. He was right. Sort of.
People are inherently selfish. Research shows we’re happier and our lives improve when we focus on ourselves.
Makes sense, right?
So why does research also show that we often put others first and fail to choose what will make us happy?
The problem comes, researcher Jonathan Berman says, when we have to decide between spending the $20 we found on the ground on new shoes and donating it to charity.
If you’re walking by a shopping center when you pick up the money, you’re more likely to freely spend it on yourself. But if you’re walking by a homeless shelter, “suddenly spending $20 on yourself feels so different,” Berman says.
Berman and his colleague Deborah Small at the University of Pennsylvania hypothesized that forcing a person to be selfish would be liberating – allowing them to enjoy their self-interest pursuit without feeling selfish.
Berman and Small conducted three separate studies with anywhere from 130 to 250 participants to test their theory. Their results were published . . . in the journalPsychological Science.
Turns out that if you find some way to be greedy, or selfish, and keep that money without guilt, you’re a much happier dude or dudette. If you’re forced to spend money on yourself, without the option of spending it on charity or giving to others, it makes you feel good.
Not sure why that should be shocking, but it is a little odd to think about. Are the people who can go ahead and spend lavishly on themselves without worrying about others, simply more evolved, more able to tap into what makes them happy? Or are they just a bunch of greedy bastards and this is a fine justification?
Science may never know.