So conventional wisdom has long told us to take emotions out of the financial equation. But a study seems to prove that at least one emotion can do us some financial good.
In a study of 75 twenty-something participants, professors at Northeastern University, Harvard, and the University of California Riverside found that gratitude makes for better financial decisions than a “neutral” feeling, or even one of happiness.
The participants were divided into three groups. Each group was asked to recall an event that they were asked to write about for five minutes:
- The “gratitude” participants were asked to write about an event that made them feel grateful
- The “happy” participants were asked to write about an event that made them feel happy
- The “neutral” participants were asked to write about a typical day
After recording their memory, each participant was asked to rate their emotional state on a scale of 1 to 5.
Then came the financial factor.
Each participant was offered cash for participating in the study. They were given the option of receiving a smaller amount immediately or a much larger amount one week to six months in the future.
- The mean “grateful” participant would only agree to accept a smaller amount immediately if it were $63 (as opposed to waiting three months for $85).
- The mean “happy” or “neutral” participant agreed to accept a smaller amount immediately if it were just $55 (as opposed to waiting three months for $85).
What does it mean?
As stated in the paper on the study, Gratitude: A Tool For Reducing Economic Impatience:
“The results reveal that gratitude reduces excessive economic impatience. Comparing gratitude’s effects to those of happiness, the results also confirm the importance of more narrowly parsing the influence of positive emotional states within the context of economic choice. Perhaps most importantly, they substantially challenge the view that individuals must tamp down affective responses through effortful self-regulation to make more patient and adaptive economic decisions.”
When you feel grateful, you’re expressing your appreciation for the value of something. You’re also generally feeling pretty fulfilled. Maybe that’s the perfect combination of things to be satisfied enough with what you have now to more easily delay further gratification until well into the future.
How To Feel More Gratitude
Whether you’re skeptical of the results of this study, or thoroughly convinced, isn’t it worth a try? Give one or more of these ideas a go. (Note, these are my suggestions, not those of the study researchers.)
1) Schedule gratitude sessions.
Pick a time every day to count your blessings. Before you get out of bed in the morning. During your lunch break. Just before you fall asleep. Or vary the time depending on when you know you’ll be making a financial decision.
2) Express gratitude to everyone.
Family and friends are a given, but don’t forget neighbors, colleagues, and strangers. Sometimes it’s as on-the-nose as a “thank you,” and sometimes all it takes is a smile.
3) Be grateful for everything – big, little, and even not so good.
It’s easy to feel grateful for the good things in life. What’s tougher is appreciating the not-so-good. Even in the worst of circumstances, there is something to be grateful for in the lesson you’ve learned.
4) Keep a gratitude journal.
Every day, write down at least one thing you’ve found to be thankful for in it.
5) Adopt a gratitude affirmation.
“I am grateful for ______________.” Fill in the blank with whatever comes to mind, and repeat it to yourself over the course of your day.
Any other ideas for feeling more gratitude you’d add to the list?