Most of us dread tax season. That once-a-year, complicated, frustrating chore always gives us a headache–and often a lighter wallet to boot.
It would seem logical, then, to expect that the act of paying taxes would make us depressed. However, social scientists around the world have been studying tax payers for years, and the results are surprising. While the act of preparing our tax returns is often accompanied by feelings of stress and exasperation, the act of paying our taxes actually has the opposite effect: it makes us feel good.
Skeptical? We understand. Here’s how it works:
Engaging in certain types of activities activates the ventral striatum–the reward center of the brain. When you indulge in your favorite food or score the winning goal in a soccer game, it triggers this area and makes you feel good. The same holds true when you engage in altruistic activities that support your community–making a charitable donation or volunteering at a soup kitchen, for example.
But what about when you’re forced to give your money away? Interestingly, scientists found that for tax payments–which are different from voluntary, charitable donations–our brain tends to process this activity in much the same way.
The reason for this reaction is based on people’s attitude toward taxes. Many people view paying taxes as part of their civic duty–an act which supports the nation, makes the community stronger and creates benefits we all enjoy–such as parks, road maintenance or trash and recycling services. Many people consider paying their taxes to be the ethical thing to do, and they feel proud to contribute to the greater good. All of these factors contribute to the positive reactions their brains experience from paying taxes. Conversely, researchers found that tax evaders tend to have lower levels of happiness.
So the next time tax season rolls around, remember that while preparing your tax return may be a pain, the ultimate outcome–whether you get a refund or a bill–is likely to lift your spirits.