Why Your Cashier Is Always Smiling: Handling Money Makes Us Happier

According to a new study, handling money (even if it's not your own) can lessen both physical and emotional pain.

Wonder why your cashier at the grocery store checkout line is always so cheerful? Corporate policy, a cynic might say—but if a new study is to be believed, that happiness could be all natural.

According to researchers at University of Minnesota, handling money can help ease both physical and emotional pain—even if it’s not yours to keep.

In an experiment, marketing professor Kathleen Vohs asked a group of students to count a stack of cash, explaining that they would need to return the money when they were done. Afterwards, the students, along with a group that had asked to count slips of paper instead, were asked to dip their hands into hot water and rate how painful it was. The money-handlers rated the experience as significantly less uncomfortable than the paper-counters.

As a variation to test how money affected emotional pain, Vohs repeated the money and paper-counting test, and then had a group of students shun the test subjects. Once again, the students who had counted money rated the experience as less painful than those who had counted slips of paper.

“In both of those experiments, we found that when people were reminded of money, otherwise painful events were not so painful,” Vohs told UMNews. “It’s a robust and very strong finding.” Even though the students knew the money wasn’t theirs, it served as a powerful symbolic reminder of prosperity.

So what does this mean in the real world? While we doubt doctors are going to start prescribing cash instead of codeine as a painkiller any time soon, it does have some practical uses. Vohs believes that instead of giving vouchers to dissatisfied customers, businesses might do better to hand them cash to create a favorable impression. She also claims that single guys out for a night on the town may be better at coping with rejection if they keep a wad of money in their pockets.

So next time you’re feeling down, maybe a tour of the U.S. Mint is what you need. Better yet? Become a bank teller.

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