1 thing can help holiday parties boost well-being

Taking the time to recognize the accomplishments of others at a holiday gathering will "maximize the benefits to your well-being and the well-being of all the attendees at that holiday party," says Kelley Gullo Wight. (Credit: Eugene Zhyvchik/Unsplash)

Making an intentional effort to recognize positive life events and achievements while gathering for food and drink at holiday parties will leave you and others feeling more socially supported, according to new research

The study 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 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 lifespan and decreased anxiety and depression.

“Many celebrations this time of year include two of the three conditions—eating and drinking while gathering together,” says Kelley Gullo Wight, assistant professor at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business and coauthor of the study in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.

“Adding the third condition, making an intentional effort to recognize other’s 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 coauthors 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 if 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,” says coauthor Danielle Brick, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Connecticut. “This would be a good time for non-profits to market donation campaigns, around the time many people are celebrating positive life events, like holidays or graduations.”

The researchers note that 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.

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.

Additional coauthors are from Duke University.

Source: Indiana University