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More than fun and games: Celebrations can benefit your health and well-being

Celebrations with a focus on accomplishments can increase perceived social support, new research finds

For Immediate Release Dec 21, 2022

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Making an intentional effort to recognize positive life events and achievements while gathering for food and drink will leave you feeling more socially supported, new research from Indiana University shows.

The research, published online in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, finds that celebrations with three conditions — social gathering, eating or drinking, and intentionally marking a positive life event — will increase perceived social support. According to previous research, perceived social support is the belief that you have a social network that will be there for you in case of future, negative life events. That belief is associated with health and well-being outcomes, including increased life-span and decreased anxiety and depression.

Kelley Gullo Wight. Kelley Gullo Wight.

“Many celebrations this time of year include two of the three conditions: eating and drinking while gathering together,” said study co-author Kelley Gullo Wight, assistant professor in the IU Kelley School of Business. “Adding the third condition, making an intentional effort to recognize others’ positive achievements, is key.

“For example, take the time to congratulate someone for getting accepted to their first-choice university, or a work project that went well, or a new job offer. This will maximize the benefits to your well-being and the well-being of all the attendees at that holiday party.”

Wight and her co-authors — including Danielle Brick of the University of Connecticut, and James Bettman, Tanya Chartrand and Gavan Fitzsimons of Duke University — used behavioral experiments to survey thousands of participants over several years.

The research revealed that even if gatherings are virtual, if everyone has food and drink (no matter whether it’s healthy or indulgent) and they’re celebrating positive events, this also increases a person’s perceived social support, and they can receive the same well-being benefits from it.

It also has implications for marketing managers or anyone looking to raise funds for a good cause.

“We found that when people feel supported socially after a celebration, they’re more ‘pro-social,’ and more willing to volunteer their time or donate to a cause,” said Brick, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Connecticut. “This would be a good time for nonprofits to market donation campaigns, around the time many people are celebrating positive life events, like holidays or graduations.”

Hosting celebrations that increase perceived social support can be especially beneficial at places serving populations more at risk of loneliness and isolation, like nursing homes or community centers, the researchers said.

They also note the importance of understanding the well-being benefits of celebrations for policymakers looking to implement regulations or measures that could impact social gatherings, like COVID lockdowns, to avoid negative consequences to mental health. They recommend that if organizers need to have virtual celebrations, they should involve some type of consumption and the marking of a separate, positive life event, so people leave the celebration feeling socially supported.

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