The University of Indianapolis’ Director of Psychological Sciences and Interim Associate Dean Erin Fekete co-authored a study that was published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. The study, “Gratitude enhances the beneficial effects of social support on psychological well-being,” was co-authored by Black Hills State University Associate Professor of Psychology Nathan Deichert and Michael Craven, a doctoral student in the psychology program at UIndy.
The study examined the effects that gratitude and support can have on perceived feelings of stress, something that may be particularly relevant for college students, Craven said. Gratitude and support have been shown through research to be two essential components of overall well-being, according to Deichert. The goal of the study was to clarify the relationship between gratitude and support further by examining whether feelings of gratitude could increase the benefits of receiving positive support during a stressful situation.
The authors of the study did this by randomly assigning 127 college students to write about either an experience they were grateful for or a neutral experience. The gratitude writers were told to write about a person they were thankful for, while the neutral writers were told to write about the route they took to the research lab. The participants were then given three minutes to prepare a speech on euthanasia, during which they would randomly receive support or receive no support from the research assistant listening to them. The support came in the form of verbal encouragement, head nods, smiling and brief laughter, according to the procedure.
The findings showed that those who received the support experienced less stress than those who did not, but the subjects who engaged in the writing exercise and who received support experienced significantly less stress, but only wrote about the neutral experience. According to Deichert, this was because the idea of being thankful at the beginning put the subjects in the right frame of mind and allowed them to benefit the most from the support they received. The support, however, does not always benefit people, according to Fekete.
“One of the things you sometimes see with social support is that people feel like if somebody provides them with support that they are indebted to that person and so, sometimes social support can actually elicit negative feelings,” Fekete said. “Gratitude might negate some of those negative feelings that people have sometimes when they receive support.”
Fekete, Deichert and Craven all said that having gratitude is important in life and one of the easiest ways to cultivate it is by starting a gratitude journal. All anyone has to do to get the benefits is for them to take a few minutes of their day and jot down a few things they appreciate about it, according to Deichert.
What you write down doesn’t have to be complicated or inconvenient, or even be an everyday thing, according to Deichert. He said that the most important thing to do is to just do it, and not make it another task. Simply maintaining a thankful attitude of the circumstances and people involved in your routines and work can get you the benefits of gratitude as well, Fekete said.
The benefits of support are multiplied even more when combined with gratitude, according to the study. The two work together and benefit each other, according to Fekete. The study suggests that gratitude will enhance your relationships, make them better and promote more thankfulness.
“We know that in addition to gratitude having health benefits, social support also has a lot of really great health benefits too and being more socially integrated and having people around you that are able to provide you with support,” Fekete said. “If you’re also grateful, then that support is going to be even more effective for you.”