Study from Chicago Booth finds people underestimate the value of sending a “letter of appreciation”.
Practising gratitude is a healthy habit. But when it comes to writing letters of thanks to people who have made a difference in your life, excuses pile up, it has been observed. You worry you will sound trite. It might even feel socially awkward. You might think the other person already knows you are grateful, and your letter of thanks won’t really make a difference.
Not so. Research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business finds people underestimate the positive impact a ‘thank you’ note has on its recipient.
In the study “Undervaluing Gratitude: Expressers Misunderstand the Consequences of Showing Appreciation”, Chicago Booth professor Nicholas Epley and University of Texas at Austin’s Amit Kumar discovered a wide gap between how little senders think their letters of gratitude will affect the recipient and the high level of happiness the recipients feel upon reading the letter. “There’s so much talk in the world—both in academic literature and in the popular press—that expressing gratitude is good for you,” said Kumar, a post-doctoral researcher at Booth at the time of the research. “But that doesn’t seem to line up with how often people are actually articulating their appreciation in daily life. So, we wanted to find out what are the barriers holding people back?”
In a series of four experiments, the researchers asked participants to write a letter to another person who had a touched their life in a meaningful way. They asked the letter writers to predict how surprised, happy and awkward the recipients would feel, and then followed up with the recipients to measure how they actually felt.
The results, published in the journal Psychological Science, find that participants systematically miscalculated how much people appreciated being thanked.
“Expressers significantly underestimated how surprised recipients would be about why expressers were grateful, overestimated how awkward recipients would feel, and underestimated how positive recipients would feel,” researchers noted.
They also found that the letter writers were unduly concerned about their ability to express their gratitude skilfully. While the writers worried about choosing the right words, the recipients were happy simply by the warmth of the gesture. “It suggests that thoughts about how competently people can express their gratitude may be a barrier to expressing gratitude more often in everyday life,” added Kumar.
A short note on the research can be found here: https://goo.gl/JdyPMH.