The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Here’s some happy research: Gratitude’s great ripple effect


Photo courtesy of Big Stock Photo

My colleague Kate just alerted me to some new research from Taiwan showing gratitude (spurred by generosity) can spread far and wide in social networks.

The paper, which appeared in the tantalizingly named Journal of Happiness Studies, discusses how we feel gratitude when someone helps us – and when we see someone being generous to someone else. And in either of those cases, we are often inspired to go help other people. Even strangers. The researchers call this “upstream reciprocity.”

Researchers have in the past have chalked upstream reciprocity up to an evolutionary process because of its potential to deepen the exchange of resources. They’ve also noted from a psychological perspective, positive emotions such as gratitude may make people feel more socially attached to others beyond themselves. As the paper notes, “Gratitude may cause individuals to transfer the goodwill they previously received to people other than their benefactors, because they no longer differentiate the group of benefactors from others.” Sounds like it all makes for a happy, connected society. Paying it forward is arguably an essential ingredient to a successful civilization.

The researchers in this study used social network analysis to figure out the degree to which an individual’s gratitude influences his or her social network. They looked at study groups in a Taiwanese University, and they measured the flow of goodwill and gratitude among team members. The conclusion?

That gratitude broadens individuals’ perspectives of their current environment and causes them to transfer the goodwill that they received to other people they will encounter in the future. Furthermore, the action of transmission will replicate itself and eventually influence the structure of a given social network.

The bottom line in my view? Generosity and gratitude are contagious – and not just among those immediately around you. They have massive ripple effects in networks – which is the one kind of epidemic that is a happy thing.

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About This Blog

Amanda Khoury
Marketing Manager

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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