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More PsychNotes: Physical Health

Spending Money on Others Can Lower Blood Pressure
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

giving a present
As long as it doesn't cause financial strain and is not associated with increased personal stress, spending money on others may have positive effects on the heart. In particular, researcher Willans and colleagues showed that the more money people spent on others, the lower their blood pressure was even two years later.

To help further determine that spending on others, and not just spending in general, contributed to decreased blood pressure, they conducted a random experimental study. In this study they gave people $40 a week for three weeks. Half were told to spend the money on themselves and the other half were told to spend the money on someone else. Two weeks later when blood pressure was measured it was on average six points lower for both diastolic and systolic.

The subjects in these studies were people over the age of 65 who were being treated for high blood pressure. Since their blood pressure was likely under control with medication any decrease in blood pressure is highly significant. The experimental study shows that the benefit of generousity is sustained over time because the blood pressure was measured several weeks after spending money on others.

Further analysis of the results indicated that spending on others had the effect of reducing stress which likely caused the reduction in blood pressure. In other words, focusing generously on others tends to improve heart health because it reduces the negative focus on personal stressors. Most likely, instead of thinking about their problems they were thinking about how to spend the money on other people.

What does this mean for your life? Well, it seems impractical to give everyone money to spend on someone else. And it may cause financial strain to spend your money on others. However, this is only one aspect of generosity—there are many ways to focus generously on others.

Being generous not only helps others but helps you as well.

Whillans, A.V., Dunn, E.W., Sandstrom, G.M. (2016). Is Spending Money on Others Good for Your Heart? Health Psychology, 35, 574–583. DOI:10.1037/hea0000332

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