Count Your Blessings

Thanksgiving is a time when many people pause, often just before digging into Thanksgiving dinner, to count their blessings. This practice of counting your blessings turns out to have far reaching implications for more than just Thanksgiving. It can help you stop your overspending behavior and handle money better….and may even help you cope with other habits you’d like to change, like eating or smoking too much.

Research by a team at Northeastern Univeristy found that people make financial decisions emotionally as much as and perhaps more than we make those decisions logically. Trying to ignore or supress your emotions when you make financial decisions tends to give our fears greater power over us. So we decide based on what makes us feel safe or secure. This is especially true when trying to exercise financial self-control — that is, keeping ourselves from spending money on things we later regret.

In a classic test of financial self-control participants were told they could have $54 dollars immediately or get $80 if they waited 30 days. Quick, before you read any further, what would you choose? The researchers divided people into three groups, people who tested as happy, those who were grateful and those who were neutral. The difference in reactions was marked — those who were happy or neutral, chose the $54 option.Those who were grateful mostly chose the $80 in 30 days option. In other words, gratitude led this group to choose an option where they made a 48% return on their investment in 30 days or a 576% annualized return!

We are programmed to “kill and eat” so having something immediately is better than getting it later, even if getting it later means we get much more. We don’t know why people with an attitude of gratitude were willing to wait but there was a clear correlation. The more grateful people were, the more willing they were to wait for the larger gain.

Being neutral or even happy isn’t enough to change your behavior; Being grateful is. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude can help people make good financial decisions and, the researchers believe, can also help them change other behaviors. Gratitude makes it possible for people to defer gratification — to wait for better things in the future.

An attitude of gratitude is a core spiritual practice that helps people develop a more mature spiritual life. Instead of just calling on God for help in moments of crisis or to help or heal loved ones, we begin to see God’s grace present in everyday life. Developing an grateful orientation to life is like the Japanese garden path with uneven stones — they are designed to force you to walk slowly, look down and see the plants, stones and beauty beneath your feet, beauty you would otherwise miss in your rushed march across the sidewalks of life. Stopping to say “thank you” many times each day means you are constantly asking yourself: “Where is God acting in my life? What am I thankful for in this moment?” Giving thanks, developing an attitude of gratitude makes God real and present in a multitude of tiny ways — and that adds up to a different approach to life. As an added benefit, it turns out that it also means we are likely to make better financial decisions!