Recently published work has demonstrated that 23-month olds were happier when giving treats to others than when receiving treats for themselves.
Humans are an extremely social species and often interact with many people each day. The majority of these interactions are pleasant, and people frequently do nice things for one another, including helping and sharing. Engaging in these “prosocial behaviors” often involves sacrificing something – such as time, energy, or money – yet people tend to feel good after doing so. These positive feelings may explain why we do nice things, and why these behaviours appear early in development. A recent study at the CIC found that 23-month-olds were happier when receiving treats for themselves. Further, these toddlers were happier when giving away their own treats than when giving away their own treats than when giving away a treat from the researcher. Evidence that prosocial behavior leads to happiness in toddlers suggests that the experience of positive emotions may contribute to the widespread cooperation characteristic of humans.
Aknin, L.A., Broesch, T., Hamlin, J.K., & Van de Vondervoort, J.W. (2015). Prosocial behaviour leads to happiness in a small-scale society. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144(4), 788-95. doi: 10.1037/xge0000082