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How celebrations can be beneficial for health and well-being

According to a new study, recognising achievements can increase perceived social support.

Celebrating positive life events can make people feel more socially accepted. (Pexels/fauxels)
Celebrating positive life events can make people feel more socially accepted. (Pexels/fauxels)

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A new study has revealed that making a conscious effort to recognize positive life events and successes while meeting for food and drinks can make people feel more socially accepted.

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The research, published online in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, found that celebrations with three conditions—social gathering, eating or drinking, and marking a positive life event—increases perceived social support.

According to previous research, perceived social support is the belief that you have a social network to depend on during negative life events. This belief is associated with health and well-being outcomes, including increased life-span and decreased anxiety and depression.

"Many celebrations, this time of year, include two of the three conditions—eating and drinking while gathering together," said Kelley Gullo Wight, assistant professor at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business and co-author of the study.

"Adding the third condition, making an intentional effort to recognise 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 maximise the benefits to your well-being and the well-being of all the attendees at that holiday party," she added.

Wight and her co-authors, including professors 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 drinks (no matter if it's healthy or indulgent) and they are 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 are more 'pro-social,' and more willing to volunteer their time or donate to a cause," said Danielle Brick, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Connecticut and co-author on the study, adding, "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 for populations more at-risk of loneliness and isolation, such as nursing homes or community centres.

They also point out the importance of understanding the well-being benefits of celebrations for policymakers looking to implement regulations or measures that could impact social gatherings, such as Covid lockdowns, to avoid negative consequences to mental health.

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The researchers recommend that if organisers need to have virtual celebrations, they should involve food and drinks and acknowledgement of a separate, positive life event, so that people leave the celebration feeling socially supported. 

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