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Study: Make time for gratitude, worry less about words


(michaklootwijk / Depositphotos.com)

(michaklootwijk / Depositphotos.com)

You’re busy. Everyone’s busy. Who has the time to build better business relationships by expressing your gratitude? And who has the time to really craft a great expression of thanks?

It doesn’t have to be that complicated, according to new research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Generally, people tend to underestimate the positive impact a letter of gratitude has on its recipient, according to the research by Professor Nicholas Epley and Amit Kumar, a, postdoctoral researcher, called “Undervaluing Gratitude: Expressers Misunderstand the Consequences of Showing Appreciation.” Kumar is now affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin.

“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 in a statement. “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 why — what are the barriers holding people back?”

It turns out that recipients of thank-you letters are much happier than the letter writers estimated they would be, according to the study.

In four experiments, Epley and Kumar asked participants to write a letter to someone who had touched their lives in a meaningful way.

Epley and Kumar asked the gratitude-giver to predict how surprised, happy and awkward the recipients would feel. Then they followed up with the gratitude-receivers to see how they really felt.



“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,” the researchers wrote.

Also, Epley and Kumar found that the people who wrote the letters were too worried about their wordsmithery. But skillful writing when expressing gratitude wasn’t as important to the recipients as the warmth of the letters.

“It suggests that thoughts about how competently people can express their gratitude may be a barrier to expressing gratitude more often in everyday life,” says Kumar.

If you’re looking to spread some cheer, a simple letter of thanks can go a long way.


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