A Simple Antidote to Overspending: Gratitude

Katie Simon
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Have you ever come home from the grocery store or the mall with something you absolutely don’t need? (We’re looking at you, asparagus peeler.) New research suggests there’s a quick fix—and it’s as simple as pausing to say thanks.

That’s according to a study recently published in Psychological Science, which found that feeling grateful can help rein in impulsivity. Study participants could choose to receive $54 the same day or wait one month to receive $80. Then, through self-reflection activities, they were made to feel happy, grateful, or neutral.

What typically transpires in these delayed-gratification experiments is that people opt to receive the money immediately. And that’s exactly what happened—to everyone except the people in the grateful group. They preferred to wait it out for the $80.

So how do you explain the difference? Writing on PsychologyToday.com, consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow suggests two possibilities.

For one thing, she says, we often make impulsive purchases to fill an emotional void. Impulsive consumption can provide relief from the emptiness a person might feel, whether that emptiness is a deep desire for connection or just plain boredom. But, when we’re reminded of something we’re grateful for—whether it’s a person or an experience—we’re less likely to feel that absence.

Moreover, we tend to make impulse buys when we’re slightly distracted, often because we’re multi-tasking, sleep-deprived or anxious. Cultivating gratitude can induce a more calm, mindful state, says Yarrow. In fact, when it comes to practicing thoughtful consumption, feeling grateful is a lot more effective than simply forcing yourself to focus on the purchase in front of you, which could bring up stressful budgeting problems and other financial worries.

Another upside to this method? Feeling grateful can increase feelings of happiness.

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