If you’re relying on willpower alone to avoid overspending this holiday season, well, good luck.
Yet recent research suggests that there’s another route to keeping your spending in check by considering your long-term financial well-being: Think of a time you felt grateful.
In a small study last year, psychologist David DeSteno and colleagues recruited a total of 75 men and women and divided them into three groups. One group spent five minutes writing about an event that made them feel grateful; the other group wrote about a time they felt happy; the third group wrote about the events of a typical day.
All participants then made 27 choices between receiving small cash amounts (ranging from $US11 to $US80) immediately and receiving larger cash amounts (ranging from $US25 to $US85) at some point in the next six months. They were told that a few lucky participants would be randomly chosen to receive the amount they selected.
Results showed that participants who felt grateful were significantly more patient than participants who felt happy or those who thought about a typical day.
In fact, the average grateful participant required $US63 immediately to forgo receiving $US85 in three months, compared to $US55 for participants in the other two groups. That means that grateful people needed more money in the present to dissuade them from accepting the long-term payout.
Importantly, these findings imply that positive feelings in general aren’t enough to combat economic impatience. Participants in the happy group were no more likely to accept the long-term payout than participants who wrote about a typical day.
Writing in The New York Times, DeSteno suggests that his findings can help consumers resist impulse buys, which ultimately stem from the “innate human preference” for immediate gratification. Invoking feelings of gratitude can help you minimise the influence of that preference, and place greater value on building wealth in the long term.
So even though you really, really want that cashmere sweater now, feeling grateful could increase your ability to exercise self-control and resist temptation. The long-term reward, of course, is more money in the bank.
This study adds to a growing body of research about the potential benefits of gratitude — most notably, strengthening relationships.
Bottom line: Even if you’re not so invested in Thanksgiving, embracing the spirit of gratitude may have tangible results for your everyday life — this holiday season and year-round.
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