How to Take the Sting Out of Taxes

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Little else in this world has a worse reputation than taxes and the payment thereof. We hear tirades about it on the news and from political figures; we cheer on the likes of Robin Hood; we gnash our teeth about how much we have to shell out. The fight over how tax dollars get used is at the heart of most government-related disagreement; it may also be the quickest way to stop tax season from feeling so bruising.

Psychologists at Canada's Simon Fraser University have just released a study suggesting that simply reframing how we view taxation can alleviate some of our hatred for it. In fact, the more we consider that taxes are used to help others, the more willing we are to contribute. It all comes down to prosociality, which is the same drive behind charitable giving and workplace cooperation. The researchers call it "the tendency to engage in kind or generous behavior for the benefit of others, even when costly for oneself… Thus, given that taxation redirects personal income toward public goods shared by fellow citizens, people who recognize the prosocial nature of taxes may find taxes less aversive or even worthwhile."

Of course, it's still totally fair to be skeptical or just curious about where your tax dollars go once you pay them. If you have strong feelings about where money should be directed — whether to more social services or back into consumers' pockets — that's a great signal to get in touch with your elected representatives at all levels of government.