Telling people how we really feel can be… well, tricky. Even when it comes to writing a simple thank you note: “What if it’s too much? Will they think I’m weird? Is it going to be awkward?” If only there were a surefire way to know how it was going to turn out! Well, this study is getting as close as we are likely to get. Here, scientists tracked how senders and receivers felt about thank you letters, and the results suggest that you should get your pen out: “Expressers significantly underestimated how surprised recipients would be about why expressers were grateful, overestimated how awkward recipients would feel, and underestimated how positive recipients would feel.” So, that’s one interpersonal interaction simplified. The only question left is whether we should send a thank you note to the authors for this?
“Expressing gratitude improves well-being for both expressers and recipients, but we suggest that an egocentric bias may lead expressers to systematically undervalue its positive impact on recipients in a way that could keep people from expressing gratitude more often in everyday life. Participants in three experiments wrote gratitude letters and then predicted how surprised, happy, and awkward recipients would feel. Recipients then reported how receiving an expression of gratitude actually made them feel. Expressers significantly underestimated how surprised recipients would be about why expressers were grateful, overestimated how awkward recipients would feel, and underestimated how positive recipients would feel. Expected awkwardness and mood were both correlated with participants’ willingness to express gratitude. Wise decisions are guided by an accurate assessment of the expected value of action. Underestimating the value of prosocial actions, such as expressing gratitude, may keep people from engaging in behavior that would maximize their own-and others’-well-being.”