Feelings of Gratitude May Curb Impulsive Behavior

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Given a choice, the human mind tends to reach for an immediate reward instead of holding out for a better future payoff.

Instead of saving money to create an emergency fund, we are tempted to buy new clothes or electronics we do not need. We may opt for enjoying entertainments today though it means growing credit card debt that will weigh us down tomorrow, creating anxiety.

Better Than Willpower

Exercising willpower to resist impulsive or unnecessary spending works well for a few of us, works sometimes for many of us, and not at all for others. What apparently works better than willpower is cultivating feelings of gratitude.

Although we tend to think that feelings and emotions are a source of irrational behavior, some researchers discovered this is not always true. They studied the effect that feeling either happy, grateful, or neutral has on our ability to wait patiently for a long term financial reward.

The level of patience that research participants demonstrated turned out to be directly related to the level of gratitude they felt when asked to choose between an immediate financial reward, and a reward three months off but up to $30 more.

Those in a happy or neutral frame of mind exhibited equal amounts of impatience, and were more likely to grab immediate financial gratification.

Gratitude and Self-Control

“Emotions exist to serve adaptive purposes, so the idea that emotions would always be a hindrance to long-term success makes little sense,” said psychologist David DeSteno of Northeastern University.

The research suggests that long-term success, which requires us to exercise wisdom and common sense, is benefitted by generating gratitude. This is good to know because economic impatience is a worrisome tendency in today’s culture.

“Showing that emotion can foster self-control and discovering a way to reduce impatience with a simple gratitude exercise opens up tremendous possibilities for reducing a wide range of societal ills from impulse buying and insufficient saving to obesity and smoking,” says researcher Ye Li of UC Riverside School of Business Administration.

Easy To Cultivate

Gratitude does not only acknowledge what we have or are given, it puts us in an open and receptive state of heart and mind. This is easy to cultivate by keeping a simple gratitude journal. Each morning, or before turning in for the night, jot down three to five things you are grateful for—past, present, or future. This can be done in a minute or two and will help start or end the day in a positive way.

Source: Northeastern.edu
Photo credit: Steven DePolo

 
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