You can now read 5 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

Be thankful and make better long-term decisions

DAVID DeSTENO

André Mehta

DAVID DeSTENO

We are notoriously bad at forgoing instant gratification for longer-term rewards. In laboratory studies and in the real world, people frequently make impatient decisions that economists would call “suboptimal,” and, in real-life terms, result in problems such as credit card debt, obesity, or drug addiction.

Add emotion to the mix, and the decision-making seems to get worse: Sad people make even more impatient financial decisions, a study by a Harvard Kennedy School researcher found.

Continue reading below

A team of researchers led by a Northeastern University psychologist has found, however, that one emotion can make us more patient: Feeling grateful improves people’s ability to take the long view when making financial decisions.

In a study to be published in the journal Psychological Science, they found that, on average, grateful people were more willing to forgo immediate temptation for a larger reward than people who were merely neutral or happy.

Grateful people who were offered a choice between a lower sum today and a larger sum in three months had to be offered much more money in the immediate term to choose it. They had to be offered $63 today, in order to forgo $85 in three months, whereas happy and neutral people would take $55 now rather than wait for $85.

“It probably is the case that we have specific emotions that make us take the long-term view as well,” said David DeSteno, a psychologist at Northeastern. “And if that is the case, that opens a whole new way to design interventions that can help people make better economic and purchasing decisions.”

Whether feeling thankful will actually help people in real-world situations avoid cupcakes, exercise regularly, and put more money away for retirement remains to be seen, but the upside of the research is that gratitude has its virtues anyway. There is little to lose in feeling grateful each day, and — potentially — more to gain.

Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at cjohnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @carolynyjohnson.
Loading comments...
Subscriber Log In

We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles'

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Already a subscriber?
Your city. Your stories. Your Globe.
Yours FREE for two weeks.
Enjoy free unlimited access to Globe.com for the next two weeks.
Limited time only - No credit card required!
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.
Thanks & Welcome to Globe.com
You now have unlimited access for the next two weeks.
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.