Gratitude increases financial patience

Cash money

For those looking to save money, a simple strategy may help curb impulse spending. According to researchers from Northeastern University, feeling grateful can reduce financial impatience.

In a recent study, a team of researchers assessed impatience by requiring participants to choose between instant gratification or future monetary rewards. Would you rather have $54 right now? Or $80 next month? To see how mindset impacted decision making, researchers had the participants write about a past event beforehand that made them feel either grateful, happy or neutral.

Most people who elicited happy or neutral feelings took the immediate cash payout. However, people who felt grateful were more likely to hold off for a larger cash reward.

“[M]omentary experiences of gratitude were enough to increase financial patience by 12 percent,” said David DeSteno, a psychologist with Northeastern University. “This suggests that gratitude could enhance savings behavior and self-control.”

According to DeSteno, gratitude is an emotion that focuses attention on the future. This, he says, makes people feel that they ought to pay it back at a later point.

“[Gratitude] makes us value future actions and rewards,” said DeSteno.

For the study, many participants in the thankful group required an offer of over $60 before taking an immediate payout. On the other hand, most neutral and happy people chose $55 right now over $85 in three months.

Researchers say the findings are significant as they can help reduce impulse buying and other impulsive behavior (think binge eating, risky sex and smoking). A simple gratitude exercise may help people favor long-term well-being over immediate gratification.

The study doesn’t stand alone. Loads of previous research tout the physical, psychological and social benefits of gratitude. According to the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, feeling grateful has been associated with an improved immune system, better sleep quality, increased joy and optimism, and decreased feelings of loneliness and isolation. Experts say this can be cultivated by keeping a daily gratitude journal to help you reflect on the things you’re thankful for each day.

By Marianne Hayes

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