About six months ago, I decided to share some lifestyle ideas I’ve been pondering this year. There are many habits and behaviors that, while not directly related to finance, can spell the difference between reaching your goals or not. But in my experience, people rarely hear about these things from their financial advisor. As we get closer and closer to Christmas, I thought it was a good time to talk about the importance of gratitude.
When it comes to achieving success in life, our actions are not the only thing that matters. Equally important is our attitude. Everyone knows how powerful a “can-do” attitude can be, even though we cringed every time our parents said it! And we’re all familiar with how far a “never quit” attitude will take us. A positive attitude is usually necessary just for basic happiness. But in order to reach our goals and achieve a rich, fulfilling life, perhaps the most important attitude we can have is an attitude of gratitude.
Catchphrases aside, science itself has proven how important gratitude is. For example, here are the results of one study that I think is particularly enlightening.1
- Those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.
- Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal, and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects keeping the other kinds of lists.
- Participants in a daily self-guided exercise focusing on gratitude, compared to those who focused on hassles or on ways they were better off than others, were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another.
- In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of high-energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group.
Another study found that having an attitude of gratitude can help us make better financial decisions.2
In [a] study, 75 participants were assigned to one of three groups: The first was asked to spend five minutes writing about an experience that made them feel grateful, the second was tasked with writing about something that left them feeling happy, and the third was asked to focus on the events of a typical day.
Next, they were asked to make a series of choices that would either result in receiving an amount of cash immediately or a greater sum in the future.
Those in a happy or neutral mood opted for instant gratification: On average, they required $55 upfront to forgo receiving $85 in three months. However, the grateful group exhibited significantly more patience and self-control, needing $63 to give up future gain—a 12% difference over the other groups.2
In essence, people who focused on gratitude showed more patience and foresight than those who did not.
My own experience as a financial advisor has confirmed this. Throughout my career, the people I’ve worked with who focused on being thankful, giving back, and counting their blessings over simply counting their money were far more likely to reach their financial goals. I think the reason for this is that an attitude of gratitude helps us feel better about ourselves, our situation, and our future. That, in turn, makes us more likely to do the things we already know lead to success:
- Asking for help when we need it
- Creating financial harmony in our homes
- Managing our time more effectively
- Managing stress and avoiding burnout
As I already mentioned, an attitude of gratitude also helps us have more patience and foresight. It helps us “see the big picture.” It helps us know what’s truly important – which means we can focus on working towards what we want most as opposed to what we only want right now.
Most advisors won’t tell you this, but it’s true: Gratitude for what we have is one of the best ways to achieve what we want.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my thoughts on the habits and behaviors that can help us achieve our financial goals. I wish you nothing but success in pursuing yours!
1 Robert A. Emmons & Michael E. McCullough, “Highlights from the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness: Dimensions and Perspective of Gratitude,” http://local.psy.miami.edu/faculty/mmccullough/Gratitude Related%20Stuff/highlights_fall_2003.pdf
2Molly Triffin, “How Practicing Gratitude Can Transform Your Finances,” Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/learnvest/2014/11/25/how-practicing-gratitude-can-transform-your-finances/#7b50b357397f