David DeSteno

Why it pays off to be thankful around the holidays

by Jason Kornwitz

Atten­tion all last-​​minute hol­iday shop­pers: If you want to alle­viate stress while saving some hard-​​earned money in the process, then learn to cul­ti­vate a sense of gratitude.

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity psy­chology pro­fessor David DeSteno, who studies emo­tion, decision-​​making, and social behavior, has found that cul­ti­vating grat­i­tude for everyday occur­rences leads to greater patience and more self-​​​​control.

“Grat­i­tude allows us to value the future more,” says DeSteno. “It makes us realize that life is not all about doing what we can in the moment to max­i­mize enjoy­ment for our­selves and others.”

According to DeSteno, the thankful hol­iday shopper is less impul­sive, less con­sumeristic. He makes wiser deci­sions with his money, with a focus on his longterm finan­cial health. As DeSteno puts it, “When you prac­tice grat­i­tude, the impulse you feel to spend calms down.”

Cul­ti­vating grat­i­tude is easy. DeSteno sug­gests a daily exer­cise in which you reflect on the small things in your life for which you are grateful. Focus on the grat­i­tude you feel for the fellow mall shopper who picked up the package you dropped or the man on the T who gave you his seat.

“It’s like taking a daily vac­cine or vit­amin that increases the prob­a­bility that you will have better impulse con­trol,” he explains.

Prac­ticing grat­i­tude can also come in handy if you cel­e­brate the hol­i­days with your extended family, espe­cially those uncles, aunts, and cousins who oppose your social, polit­ical, and reli­gions view­points. As DeSteno explains, grat­i­tude makes us more willing to coop­erate with and have empathy for those around us, espe­cially if we’re looking to building long-​​lasting relationships.

“When we cul­ti­vate grat­i­tude, we’re less likely to scream at each other over polit­ical dif­fer­ences,” he says, by way of example. “We’re enter the con­ver­sa­tion with a mindset of building relationships.”

Grat­i­tude can also be good for your overall health. It has the ability to combat anx­iety and lone­li­ness, says DeSteno, and has proven to be a par­tic­u­larly good anti­dote to stress. As he puts it, “It takes the edge off stress’ response in the body.”

Originally published in news@Northeastern on December 20, 2016.

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