What Makes Us Thankful?

Posted on December 4, 2014

Photo: flickr

When you feel gratitude toward another person, you are feeling appreciation that the person has done something for you that required some effort on their part and that was ultimately designed to be helpful to you. When there was no effort or cost to someone’s actions, then you may feel fortunate that there was a positive outcome, but not necessarily grateful to them for engaging in that action.

This analysis of gratitude suggests that we need to make some assessment of whether the action of another person came at a cost to them in order to feel grateful. A paper in the November, 2014 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by Michael MacKenzie, Kathleen Vohs, and Roy Baumeistersuggests that people’s beliefs in free will may influence the perception of cost, which may in turn affect the feeling of gratitude.

The idea is that if you believe that people have free will, then you believe that the actions they take are intentional. Those intentions reflect that they have explicitly done things to help you, and that increases your sense of gratitude toward them.

In one set of studies, the researchers simply measured people’s beliefs in free will and their tendency to be grateful. As you would expect if beliefs in free will affect gratitude, these measures were positively correlated. The more that people believed in free will, the more they tended to experience gratitude in their lives.

In order to feel gratitude, you have to believe that the person who has done something for you actually wants to help you. One factor that affects the sense that someone wants to help is whether they have free will. After all, without free will, they are destined to act the way they do.

The research has implications for companies who are performing customer service. If companies want people to feel grateful for the service they get, it is useful for customer service agents to let customers know they have some autonomy in the actions they take. This way, customers will believe that agents have chosen to help them, rather than believing that something about company policy mandated them to be helpful.

For more information on the experiments that were conducted, visit the link.


Source material from Ulterior Motives

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