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Do you struggle with making impulsive spending decisions that you later regret? Would you like to position yourself better financially for the future? What do you think it would take in order to do that?


·         Hiring a professional financial advisor?

·         Signing up for a personal finance class?

·         Long-term intensive psychotherapy?


The answer could be as simple as cultivating a more grateful mindset. In fact, a study out of the University of California, Riverside, Harvard Kennedy School and Northeastern University found just that. The researchers designed a clever experiment where subjects were offered $54 immediately or $80 in 30 days. Participants were randomly assigned to write about a past event that elicited either happy, neutral or grateful feelings.


The results showed that subjects instructed to write about an event that triggered grateful emotions were more apt to wait for the larger payout. And surprisingly, those in the “happy” group were as impatient as the “neutral” group. Interestingly, those who participated in the study were not instructed to constrain their memory selection to something related to money or even a spending decision — it could be about anything at all.


So, what does this say about real-world investment decisions?


The Cost of Impatience

Much of the success of long-term saving and investing is cultivating the ability to delay immediate gratification in favor of saving for the future, and making steady contributions to your investment and retirement accounts over time.


The “cost” of impatience in the experimental vignette was limited to a $26 difference. But similar decisions in the real world can really add up, from last-minute impulse buys at the grocery store to hitting “buy now” a little too often during late-night online shopping sprees. Additionally, the tendency of not waiting to save up for big purchases and putting them on credit cards instead — while paying all the associated interest charges and fees — can greatly undermine your future financial goals.


An Accessible Option for Everyone

It’s interesting to note that those in the “grateful” group were not required to self-identify as being grateful people in general. The effect was accomplished merely as an experimental manipulation. If this tendency holds true, then it would appear anyone might be able to prompt or prime themselves into a more grateful mindset simply by tapping into the right memories when necessary.


Additionally, fostering a mindset of gratitude may be easier — and more effective — than trying to rely on brute willpower alone to resist temptation. And it’s a habit that could be readily cultivated by maintaining a gratitude journal, keeping those grateful memories top of mind and more easily accessible when you feel the need to call upon them.


So, the next time you’re feeling the “urge to splurge” instead of trying to steel your will by mustering up all the willpower you can, simply try focusing on something you’re thankful for instead.