Whether you count your blessings every day or reserve heartfelt thanks for when it’s been earned, research has revealed that gratitude in all forms makes us more willing to help others.
Gratitude is an extensively researched emotion and for the first time the main studies in this area have been examined and meta-analysed by researchers at the University of Nottingham.
The researchers from the School of Psychology, Dr Richard Tunney, Dr Lawrence Ma and Professor Eamonn Ferguson looked at 91 studies involving more than 18,000 participants. The results as recently published in Psychological Bulletin show a clear and significant link between gratitude and prosocial behaviours.
People who experience gratitude by appreciating the positives in the world, (e.g. being grateful for a beautiful sunrise), as well as those who are grateful for others’ direct kindness, are more likely to pass this on and help others. However, gratitude triggered by a specific act of kindness is more likely to result in helping others compared to those who expressed their gratitude more generally in terms of appreciating the world.
The studies also showed that the gratitude people feel has an influence not only on how much they give back to those who have helped them (pay-it-back helping) but also how much they go on to help others in general who have not helped them in the past (pay-it-forward helping). This potentially creates a positive ripple effect of helping and prosociality.
Eamonn says: “It was very clear that gratitude can create a ripple effect of positivity and prosocial behaviour, with people wanting to help those that had helped them - passing the gratitude downstream or paying-it-back. A good example of where this translates into prosocial behaviour is with blood donation, often people are motivated to give blood for the first time when a friend or family member has received it. Also people who feel grateful because they have been helped, are more likely help others who have not helped them in a form of upstream or pay-it-forwards helping. These people in turn may help others and so on, creating a spreading effect of helping, with gratitude acting like an emotional glue that cements this ‘ripple effect.’”