The benefits of thankfulness

Teaching your kids to have an attitude of gratitude can keep them from being impulsive spenders.

Thanksgiving is a traditional time for acknowledging and appreciating what’s good in our lives. Across the country, families are sitting down to a festive meal and asking each other, “What are you thankful for this year?” As parents know, that simple question can provide a powerful lesson for children: when you focus on what you have as opposed to what you don’t have, life seems that much richer.

But did you know the same type of thinking also reduces the urge to spend impulsively? In a study published last year in the journal Psychological Science, researchers offered subjects a choice of receiving roughly $50 on the spot, or waiting a month to instead get a larger sum of $80. Left to their own devices, most participants opted for the smaller amount immediately. Ditto for those who were first primed to feel happy. But when subjects were primed to feel grateful, they were more likely to delay gratification and wait for the larger payout.

San Francisco-based consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow isn’t surprised. After conducting her own research, she concluded one of the main reasons people spend impulsively is to fill a sense of emptiness or a void in their lives — a sense that can be counteracted by feeling grateful.

“Feelings of gratitude, not just for possessions, but for almost anything — a friendly encounter, a cool breeze, a tasty lunch, a nice text from your kid, a beautiful landscape — are nourishing,” she wrote in Money magazine  last year. “It’s harder to feel a void or sense of emptiness when you pause and notice how much you have. It makes sense that everyone, not just shoppers, exhibit greater levels of impulse control when they feel thankful.”

I’ve tried this technique on occasion with my nine-year-old son Adam. When he whines because he doesn’t have the Mac computer that one of his friends has, for example, I remind him of all the devices he does have. But what I’ve found even more effective, is to mention a friend or two of his who I happen to know have little or no access to technology. Then Adam gets very quiet, and I know he’s grateful not to be in their shoes.

Hopefully, when Adam gets older, he’ll be able to have these conversations inside his head — and let gratitude, instead of an impulse buy, fill him up when he feels a void.

Keep the conversation going

What are your kids grateful for?


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada).


About the Author

Tamar Satov

Managing Editor, CPA magazine
Tamar is a journalist specializing in business, parenting and personal finance. She blogs regularly in this space with advice and anecdotes on her efforts to raise a money-smart kid.