With Thanksgiving just around the corner, you’re probably acutely aware of all the reasons you should boost your personal gratitude quotient.
Hint: Because it can help you get happier, healthier, less stressed out—and more optimistic overall.
Another big-time benefit? Feeling grateful can also make you richer.
That’s according to some interesting research from professors at Northeastern University, the University of California Riverside, and Harvard University.
In their study, 75 participants were assigned to one of three groups: The first was asked to spend five minutes writing about an experience that made them feel grateful, the second was tasked with writing about something that left them feeling happy, and the third was asked to focus on the events of a typical day.
Next, they were asked to make a series of choices that would either result in receiving an amount of cash immediately or a greater sum in the future.
Those in a happy or neutral mood opted for instant gratification: On average, they required $55 up front to forgo receiving $85 in three months. However, the grateful group exhibited significantly more patience and self-control, needing $63 to give up future gain—a 12% difference over the other groups.
Translation: Gratitude encourages patience—and, thus, a more forward-focused outlook when it comes to your money.
Curious how these findings play out in the real world? Check out these five inspiring stories of real people who’ve channeled gratitude to boost their money lives.
1. Gratitude Helped Me Lose the Urge to Splurge
Shortly after I graduated from school, my wife—then girlfriend—and I started an online English language teaching business. At first we didn’t have much flexibility, spent a lot of time working, and made very little money. We even had to take on second jobs as teachers to help get us over the hump.
But over the past eight years, our company has flourished, our stressful schedules have eased up, and we began to realize that we should be thankful for the opportunities that have emerged from our hard work and perseverance.
For example, I am so grateful to have a job where I can work from home, travel when I want to, and hang out more with my two young boys.
This feeling of gratefulness has led me to make wiser financial decisions because I’m happy with what I have. I used to be obsessed with getting the best, newest, and most expensive items and gadgets in a misguided attempt to make my life fuller. But gratitude changed my mindset, and I’ve learned to love my life just as it is.
Ironically, now that I finally have the money to afford a lot of things I used to think were important to me—a bigger house, a fancier car, five-star vacations—I recognize they are no longer my priorities.
—Marc Anderson, 33, entrepreneur, Barrie, Ontario
2. Gratitude Helped Me Look for the Silver (Financial) Lining
In November 2012 my fiancée sent me an article about the psychological benefits of gratitude , which inspired us both to write out the things that we’re grateful for each day for our 2013 New Year’s resolution.
Fast-forward to this summer, when my car broke down on the side of the highway while we were traveling together from San Antonio to Dallas. A lot of people would have gotten upset about this, but I kept my cool. I’ve learned that getting worked up doesn’t always yield the best solution—and often makes things worse. So rather than getting bent out of shape, I told my fiancée how grateful I was for having AAA, and then used my card to get towed to a local repair shop.
But once there, I was told it would cost $2,000 and take three days to fix the car—time and money we weren’t willing to spend. I called AAA back for an estimate to get towed the three hours to Dallas. The price: $1,800.
While we were brainstorming other options, we noticed a U-Haul center within walking distance. That gave us the idea to rent a truck and tow the car ourselves, which turned out costing only $350!
Even better: When we finally got the car back to our hometown of Tulsa, our local mechanic charged us just $40 for the straightforward job of refilling the clutch fluid.
By practicing gratitude, I’m constantly forced to find even the smallest thing to be happy about. And, as a result, I’ve not only become more patient, but I look closely at all of my options. That attention to detail often allows me to find cheaper alternatives that I wouldn’t have thought of if I weren’t actively looking for the best in a situation.
—Kevin Matthews, 25, financial adviser, Tulsa, OK
3. Gratitude Helped Me Cherish a Windfall
Money had been tight for me since I moved to Miami five years ago. Not only was I living on my own for the first time, but expenses in the city were higher than the suburbs where I’d moved from.
Luckily, I wasn’t in debt, but I hadn’t been contributing to my 401(k)—and didn’t have much savings. Basically, finances were a constant source of stress.
Then, last year, my 98-year-old grandmother, who I call Ami, gave me a gift of $45,000. Since she essentially lives off her Social Security check alone, she asked my dad to figure out how much she’d need for the rest of her life—then divvied up the balance between all of her grandchildren.
It was incredibly generous, and I felt so thankful to her that I vowed to use the money for something truly significant and lasting. So I applied it to my then nonexistent retirement savings, maxing out my 401(k) and opening a Roth IRA.
If I had earned the cash myself, I don’t think I would have been as conscientious about how I spent it. Sure, I would have saved some, but I also would have splurged on a couple of nice vacations and rounds of drinks for friends. But when I thought about my grandparents working hard for this money, the gratitude I felt gave me a greater sense of responsibility to use it wisely.
In fact, my whole approach to finances has changed since her gift. For one, I’m more careful about my spending, now funneling more of my paycheck into retirement savings. When I was job-hunting, having that extra financial cushion empowered me to hold out for a new position that I really loved and had long-term earning potential, rather than simply accepting the first offer I got.
Finally, Ami’s gift inspired me to pay it forward. I wanted to give something in return, and since both of us love animals, I began volunteering weekly at the local animal shelter. That was my way of honoring her—and channeling my enormous gratitude into meaningful action.
—Emily Jones, 31, executive assistant in hotel management, Miami, FL
4. Gratitude Helped Me Make Savvier Career Moves
Two and a half years ago, I reconnected with the love of my life—a man I dated for a brief period in college and hadn’t seen since. Twenty-five years later, we found ourselves single and living near each other—and ended up getting married! He inspires me every single day, and I am so grateful for his presence.
When we re-met, I was the co-owner of a shared-use kitchen that allows foodie entrepreneurs to test out their business ideas—from gourmet veggie burgers to cold-pressed organic juices—without the prohibitive cost of renting or building out an entire kitchen or production facility.
In the past, I had been accustomed to letting people walk all over me and make decisions they wanted, rather than staying true to my desires. Thus, I was always questioning myself and did not have faith in my own vision—but the gratitude I felt toward my rock-solid, supportive husband motivated me to change. And I negotiated a tough-but-fair buyout from my partner to take my not-very-profitable company in a new direction.
My successful relationship with my husband also gave me confidence that my business would thrive—that I could make wise choices, and that I am smart enough to run a company and handle its many challenges.
Because of my more-assured choices and positive attitude, my business has indeed turned around. It took about six months, but it is making a profit and continuing to gain momentum.
—Trish Wesevich, 50, culinary business adviser, Austin, TX
5. Gratitude Helped Me Be Happy With Less
In 2008, I started a daily practice of gratitude as part of my spiritual studies. Each night before bed, I wrote down at least 15 things that I was thankful for—for example, that I had clothes to wear, a fridge that was full of healthy food, a roof over my head, a safe car to drive, and a family that loved me.
After about a month, I noticed that I had more money in my bank account than before. It turns out I had been spending less and less because there was less and less that I wanted.
Several years later, I still write in the journal occasionally, but mostly I talk about things that I’m grateful for throughout the day—be it a great parking spot or rain coming to water our garden.
And I continue to feel so grateful with what I already have that there are few things anymore that I truly desire. I used to waste money on cheap items that I never really used, such as makeup or nail polish. Now I no longer buy something just to buy it.
If I see something I like, I ask myself three things before buying: Where will I put it in my small house? Will I use it? Do I really need it? The item has to satisfy question number one, plus either number two or three.
I also make sure not to confuse “want” with “need.” If I can live rather comfortably without something, then it becomes a want—like a pair of cute shoes when I have plenty of others.
Feeling grateful also helped me realize that I value experiences more than things. I began putting savings toward meaningful trips to see family and friends, as well as adventures—like saving up to travel to Ft. Lauderdale so I can do research for my next book.
—Stephanie Milton, 28, author, Bon Aqua, TN
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