Have you ever had something good happen to you and felt like shouting it from the rooftops? There’s something about sharing good news that seems to enhance the positive feelings we get from happy events in our lives, which is what researchers call “capitalization.”
Capitalizing on positive events by sharing them with others—and receiving an enthusiastic response in return—has been tied to many good outcomes, including closer relationships and greater happiness. Now, a new study suggests another benefit of sharing the good stuff: more feelings of gratitude.
Good news, more gratitude, better relationships
The researchers started by asking their almost 300 participants (ages 25 to 85) about their demographics (like race), their general health, how often they tended to share good news, and how other people in their lives generally responded to their good news: Did they show enthusiasm or interest (like offering congratulations), draw attention to potential negatives (like pointing out a promotion might mean more stress), or ignore the good news altogether?
Then, six times a day for 10 days, the researchers prompted participants to report on how grateful they were in the moment, how recently they’d had a social encounter, if they’d shared good news with that person, and how close they felt to the person as a result.
Afterward, the researchers analyzed the results to look for patterns. They found that those people who shared positive events with others felt more grateful in the moment and closer to the person with whom they shared the news. In addition, people with a tendency to share good news and receive enthusiastic responses were the most grateful in the group, overall.
Study coauthor Alexandra Gray of Northeastern University says these findings suggest sharing good news is a way to enhance gratitude and reap the rewards of that.
“When you share positive events with other people, you experience gratitude,” says Gray. “We know gratitude has its own benefits, like increased well-being or increased relationship quality with the person you’re interacting with, strengthening your social bond with them.”
How does sharing good news lead to gratitude? Verbalizing good news calls attention to the good things happening in your life, says Gray. For example, you might tell a friend what a great time you had over the holidays, and in recounting what happened, you can re-experience the positive feelings and become even more appreciative.
Getting an enthusiastic response to your good news is also important, says Gray, because it makes you feel recognized, validated, and cared for in a way that strengthens your relationship—and also leads to gratitude. It’s easy to imagine that if your friend asks you to tell them more about it, rather than pointing out the inanity of the holidays or changing the subject entirely, it will bring up your gratitude a notch or two.
Some are better than others at capitalizing on positive events
While a person’s physical health didn’t seem related to these effects at all, their age did. Older adults experienced more gratitude when they perceived their interaction partners as typically enthusiastic, supportive responders to their good news. This might be due to how older adults tend to focus more on positive emotions in their social interactions and look for social connections that support their well-being.
Though Gray and her team didn’t look at who, exactly, were the recipients of the good news (such as friends, relatives, romantic partners, or colleagues), some research suggests that sharing good news with loved ones strengthens those relationships and leads to more positive feelings, while other studies suggest the closeness of the relationship may not be that important. This latter research interests Gray, who thinks it could mean that sharing good news with strangers might increase gratitude, too.
“When sharing good news, it doesn’t really matter who the social partner is; it’s so much more about what kinds of responses that they’re providing,” she says.
However, culture may play a role in how people share good news and the benefits of doing so. Some East Asian cultures don’t tend to value the expression of positive emotion as much as Western cultures do, says Gray, perhaps because it seems too self-aggrandizing. On the other hand, she says, more recent work finds that people from East Asian cultures do actually value enthusiastic responses to their good news, as well as more understated but supportive responses.
While her study’s participants, who were largely Black and white Americans, found that sharing good news had real benefits, says Gray, people didn’t share good news frequently—only about 25% of the times they were surveyed. To help understand why, Gray’s next research project will look at whether people underestimate the benefits of sharing good news—particularly with strangers—just like they underestimate the benefits of socializing or being kind to others.
“If someone knows that they’re going to have an opportunity to share a positive event with a stranger, they’ll likely be a little apprehensive and maybe think the conversation won’t be comfortable or flow well or be pleasurable,” she says. “But I have a feeling . . . that people will be surprised at how much they actually enjoy this positive interaction, even with a stranger.”
Though there’s still more research to be done, Gray suggests people not hold back on sharing their good news with others—or on showing enthusiasm when others share good news with them. Since people feel more grateful and closer to others when capitalizing on positive events, and will do it more often when receiving positive reinforcement for doing so, we all have a role to play in helping positivity spread.
“The results suggest that we should be sharing positive events, but also try to encourage other people to share good events with us, so that we can give them those positive responses,” says Gray. “Maybe once people see how good it feels, they’ll look for future opportunities to share good news and get the ball rolling—opening the door for others to share their good experiences and becoming a cycle that goes on and on.”