I used to never think twice about buying anything that I wanted. Even if I already owned something similar, more was better, right? At one point I had SIX pairs of black, knee-high boots. Who needs that many? Apparently at that time in my life I needed them. I think my attitude toward “stuff” changed when two things happened – I lost my job and I participated in a year long Yoga Teacher Training.
Obviously when you don’t have income, you tend to re-think what you are buying . I received a severance, but it wasn’t infinite so I wanted to be sure it lasted as long as it could. I eventually found another job, and shortly thereafter started the yoga training. We all have that vision of the enlightened yogi on the mountain top, living with nothing but his divinity, and happy as can be. The more I learned about yoga, the more I began to rethink my possessions and my buying habits.
I purged my closets and gave it all to charity. I picked things up at the store and ended up putting it back after really thinking consciously if I needed it. I really lost my passion for shopping – something I thoroughly enjoyed since high school. I was feeling like I had enough “stuff”.
One of the exercises we did during yoga training was to find our top 3 core values – mine are gratitude, empathy and community. I delved into all of them, reading about them, practicing them, and developing them. And what did I just recently find out? Practicing gratitude has an inverse relationship to materialism. The more grateful you are, the less things you want.
The latest evidence suggests that, rather than simply being about good manners, the emotion of gratitude might have deep roots in humans’ evolutionary history, sustaining the social bonds that are key not only to our happiness but also to our survival as a species. Materialism can get in the way of our deeply rooted propensities for gratitude. Fortunately, new studies are documenting how to deliberately cultivate gratitude in ways that counter materialism and its negative effects. Researchers have identified some of the most effective techniques for fostering gratitude, including ways that people can spend their money to actually boost their gratitude—and thus their happiness…A 2009 study led by Nathaniel Lambert, now of Brigham Young University, found that inducing gratitude in people caused a decrease in materialism. Dr. Lambert and his colleagues were able to increase gratitude in their participants by instructing them to focus on appreciating the good things they had been given in life, then write about what came to mind…
But can people who spend money still cultivate gratitude? The answer is YES.
A final suggestion for building gratitude comes from new research by Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology at Cornell University. For years, Dr. Gilovich’s work has shown that people are happier when they spend their money on experiences, like a vacation or a dinner out, than when they spend on material things, like a new TV. Now he has found that the same goes for gratitude: People report feeling more grateful for experiential purchases than for material purchases.
What’s more, when Dr. Gilovich and his team analyzed the reviews that people leave on various consumer websites, they found that people generally indicate more gratitude when writing about an experience (e.g., on Yelp or TripAdvisor) than when writing about a material good (e.g., on Amazon).
This offers an important lesson about gratitude, and an important lesson for how we spend our money year-round. It suggests that spending money isn’t necessarily antithetical to gratitude and happiness. What matters is how you spend it—and that you take a moment to give thanks for what you have.
So the next time you have a choice between buying that pair of boots, or spending the same money for say, a painting class, tickets to an event, or saving it for a vacation, think about what you would truly be grateful for over the long haul. I have a feeling the boots will go back on the shelf.