Whenever I take Uber or Lyft, I feel compelled to give a $5 tip — even if the ride was down the block. My friend gives $1, and only for good service. Is there an ethical way to approach tipping that will help me align my values and my budget? — Need Tips on Tipping
Dear Need Tips on Tipping,
Let’s forget the comparison to your friend for a second. How do you feel when you give a $5 tip? If you feel great, then there’s no need to change your behavior. But if you feel guilty or feel like it’s too much, then it may be time to do some budget wrangling, as well as make a perspective tweak.
Think of the tip as a gift
From our research, we know that giving money away provides a bigger happiness boost than spending money on ourselves. The billionaire investor Warren Buffet decided to give away 99 percent of his wealth, and told the press he “couldn’t feel happier with his decision.” Of course, there’s a big gap between you deciding how much to give your driver and Warren Buffett deciding where to give his billions. So what do you and Warren Buffet have in common? You both have free will to decide how and why to give. In other words: You shouldn’t feel compelled to give. You should give because it makes someone’s day brighter and — bonus — can also crank up your happiness.
Consider paying for the whole ride in advance
So do $5 tips fit into your budget? If not, or if you take ride shares frequently, then you may need to downshift how much you tip or figure out how many rides fit into your monthly budget. One way to make sure your tips and your rides fit into your budget is to pay for them in advance. Many ride shares now offer the option to load a cash balance on the app. Prepaying may help you feel less stressed about the cost of each trip, and research shows that doing so can make experiences more enjoyable.
Take a second to connect
Another way to make those tips meaningful is to connect with the driver. One of the things we’ve found in our research is that connecting with others can also play a part in how happy we feel about giving — which may include how we tip. Of course, you don’t need to have a long conversation when you’re just trying to get home, but saying “hi” and exchanging pleasantries may make the drive more meaningful for both of you. After all, if you know that your tip is indirectly helping your driver’s kids, parakeets, or cactus collection, it can make it feel more meaningful to part with your cash.
Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia who researches how time, money, and technology shape human happiness. She is also the scientific advisor for Happy Money, a financial company that combines psychology and money to help people live happier lives. Have a question for Liz? Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org and check back every Wednesday for her next column.