David DeSteno, professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, recently published a paper that sheds light on the concept of gratitude. The paper appeared in the journal ‘Emotion’ and shows how important it is to develop gratitude in our lives, as it helps attain patience and self-control. According to DeSteno, “We can all point to the five things in our lives that we’re most grateful for, but if we keep thinking about those, we’ll habituate to them—they’re going to stop being interesting”.
Instead of trying hard to develop feelings of gratitude from scratch, think about the good deeds that were done for you by others. “Those kinds of daily gratitude boosters will function as a vaccine against impulsiveness and enhance self-control and future orientedness,” DeSteno says.
The research for the paper was conducted in three parts by DeSteno and co-author Leah Dickens. Around 105 Northeastern students were brought in, where they were subjected to a ‘gratitude inducing paradigm’. It was a set up that saw an actor helping each student to fix his/her ‘crashed’ computer when they were working on some difficult task. They were told they will have to start from scratch if such thing happens, however, nothing was lost. They were then asked to rate their emotional state.
The next phase followed up on students for three weeks, asking them to fill online questionnaires. DeSteno was confident about those responses being reliable as, “Their levels of gratitude in the lab predicted their levels of gratitude in real life.”
The last part was where these students were told to participate in a 27-measure survey. This survey would then be examining the role of gratitude in their lives. “What we found was that people who had higher levels of gratitude in their daily lives were more patient and less impulsive when it came to those financial decisions,” he said. “That suggests that the more you regularly experience gratitude, the more self-control you have in various areas of your life.”
DeSteno is sure of the findings – Gratitude helps to ebb the impulsive instincts by nudging us to act in a future-oriented way, maybe more than any other emotions. DeSteno himself practices this much needed quality. “I’m grateful that when I left a bag on the train this morning—because I was reading a text—a stranger ran after me to hand me the bag”.