New Research Says Sharing Voluntarily Makes Young Children Happy

Good news, parents: Your kids actually enjoy sharing toys with their friends…provided you aren’t forcing them to do it. New research suggests that when preschool-age children share voluntarily with their peers, it actually makes them happy. Just more proof that kids are too pure for this world.

The research comes out of Tsinghua University in Beijing, where researchers examined a group of 3- and 5-year-old preschoolers in China. The researchers studied the children’s facial expressions for signs of positivity as a measure of happiness, and found that both age groups expressed greater happiness when they chose to share instead of being asked to do so.

The children were split into two groups: one that shared stickers voluntarily, and another that shared out of obligation. Both the 3- and 5-year-olds shared more of the stickers when they felt they had to share them (as opposed to when the sharing was voluntary). However, both age groups also showed greater signs of happiness when they shared stickers voluntarily.

“So, it seems that the motivation to give does count,” said study author Dr. Zhen Wu in a press release, “and it also suggests that it is unrealistic to expect a very young child to share under pressure and be happy about it!”

These results will be valuable to the parents of toddlers, as well as for preschool and elementary education teachers, in formulating class norms that will help children grow and become thoughtful in their relationships with their peers.

To be fair, however, Dr. Wu mentioned that it might not all be altruism.

“For instance, it is difficult to entirely rule out the influence of social norms even in the voluntary giving mode,” Wu said. “The giver might have felt pressure to give even when told they were not obliged to.”

Regardless, this is interesting research in whether or not generosity leads to happiness…and wouldn’t it be nice if it were true?