A compliment from your co-worker could make you happier than a handful of $20 bills.
Really, it’s true! A study by Professor Norihiro Sadato and his associates about social rewards found that receiving praise–not cash–was the best way to motivate participants.
The fact that compliments are better than monetary rewards probably comes as a surprise. After all, most of our society is structured around using cash motivators to increase our happiness. When you perform well at your job, you get a salary increase. When you want to reward an employee, you give them a bonus. When you need to incentivize a child to do well, you dole out an allowance. (Though some people don’t have to do extra work to be paid more, like this man who is paid more than his female co-worker.)
However, when researchers asked 48 participants to complete a finger-tapping activity, the groups that received praise for their performance showed a significantly higher rate of improvement relative to other participants. The researchers discovered that social rewards are registered in the same part of the brain that light up when the subject is rewarded with money.
These findings go hand in hand with what we know about bribery being discouraged with children and give more weight to the research finding that workers value their workplace friends over their salaries. Even though money can be emotionally charged, it seems that feelings outweigh dollar signs.
Not only can this help you when you are trying to encourage those around you—after all, praising someone is free–but it can also give you a new way to boost your happiness. Savor those compliments!