Expressing Gratitude

Posted on September 17, 2018

We often think that people know that we are grateful for them, even if we don’t verbalize the sentiment either because we are afraid of appearing too sappy or we just don’t see the need to express something that we think should be obvious. In fact, research shows that expressing gratitude enhances the mood and relationship of both the expresser and receiver.
So why is it that we are so reluctant to show our gratitude to those that matter?

Research suggests that an egocentric bias may hinder the expression of gratitude. We often hold the assumption that others feel and think in the same way we do about a given situation. We thus shy away from expressing positive emotions, such as gratitude, because we assume that others share our feelings and thus there is no need to verbalize it. This is what psychologists term as the curse of knowledge – because we know something, we don’t stop to consider the possibility that others don’t know it. Unfortunately, this often means that we miscalculate the value that such positive interactions can bring to our relationships.

Secondly, expressing affection may be difficult for some people because they are not sure whether they are doing it correctly. From our perspective, we may feel discomfort at having to verbalize our emotions without seeming too emotional, so we often do not have the right words to do so. We are more concerned with the “competence” angle, where we are solely looking at how to go about expressing our gratitude in the right way. However, for those on the receiving end, they are more concerned with the “warmth” angle – that is, the perceived sincerity of the expressed emotions. Therefore, this creates a conundrum – we over-penalize ourselves on the details while others are just looking for a little warmth and sincerity from us.

Kumar and Epley examined the role of the abovementioned social-cognitive biases in hindering the expression of gratitude. Participants were asked to write a letter of thanks to someone who had made a difference in their lives. They were then asked to fill out a questionnaire about their feelings during and after writing the letter, and how they expected the recipient to feel after reading their letter. Participants reported having a better mood and a positive experience writing the letter.

However, they – as the egocentric bias predicted – underestimated the value it brought to the receivers. The receivers were surprised that their actions had such a tremendous impact on the participants and were more touched by the letter than the participants had anticipated.

Furthermore, the participants had thought that the receivers would uncomfortable about the expression of gratitude, but this was not the case. In fact, the researchers deduced that this disparity in expectations vs reality was due to the competence-warmth angle discussed above. In other words, while letter writers felt awkward trying to find the right words to convey their feelings (competence), the receivers were deeply touched by the expression of gratitude (warmth), regardless of the actual words that were written.

Category(s):Relationships & Marriage, Self-Care / Self Compassion, Self-Confidence

Source material from Psychology Today

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