We feel more gratitude for what we have done than for what we posses – and that kind of gratitude results in more generous behaviour towards others, researchers including one of Indian-origin have found.
“Think about how you feel when you come home from buying something new. You might say, ‘this new couch is cool,’ but you are less likely to say ‘I am so grateful for that set of shelves’,” said Thomas Gilovich, professor at Cornell University in the US.
“However, when you come home from a vacation, you are likely to say, ‘I feel so blessed I got to go’. People say positive things about the stuff they bought, but they do not usually express gratitude for it – or they do not express it as often as they do for their experiences,” said Gilovich.
In addition to experiments they conducted, the researchers found real-world evidence for this by looking at 1,200 online customer reviews, half for experiential purchases like restaurant meals and hotel stays and half for material purchases like furniture and clothing.
Reviewers were more likely to spontaneously mention feeling grateful for experiential purchases than material ones.
Jesse Walker, a graduate student in psychology and first author of the study said another reason for this increased gratitude may be because experiences trigger fewer social comparisons than material possessions.
Consequently, experiences are more likely to foster a greater appreciation of one’s own circumstances. The researchers also looked at how gratitude for experiences versus material purchases affected pro-social behaviour.
In a study involving an economic game, they found that thinking about a meaningful experiential purchase caused participants to behave more generously toward others than when they thought about a material purchase.
This link between gratitude and altruistic behaviour is intriguing, “because it suggests that the benefits of experiential consumption apply not only to the consumers of those purchases themselves, but to others in their orbit as well,” said Gilovich.
He said that the new research shows an approach that governments can take to both increase the well-being of their citizens and advance societal good.
The study was published in the journal Emotion.