How Gratitude Increases Willpower
In recent years, gratitude has shown to have a lot of physical and psychological health benefits. And now there’s even evidence that practicing gratitude increases willpower.
At least that’s what recent research published in the journal Emotion finds. People who are more grateful throughout the day are actually less impulsive and have greater self control those that don’t.
So how often do you practice gratitude? To actually take a bit of time to think about the things that you’re grateful for? Both big and small.
People usually think of gratitude as an emotion. People say they feel grateful for something. Parents. Siblings. Or their friends.
I would argue that it’s a bit more than that. It can also be a kind of perspective – a way that you look at the world. Being grateful and practicing gratefulness might be two, slightly different, things.
Looking at the world through a lens of gratitude could be a boon to self control. One of the researchers involved in the study, David DeSteno, said this:
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.
Those kinds of daily gratitude boosters will function like a vaccine against impulsiveness and enhance self-control and future orientedness.
The researchers used a little experiment to test levels of gratitude in their lab. But lab results don’t always carry over to real world situations. So the experts followed these same people over the course of three weeks.
Participants were required to update their current emotional state at random times of day via their smartphones.
When the researchers checked real world gratitude versus levels of gratitude tested in the lab, results showed they were the same. This also gave the researchers more confidence that their results were accurate.
Gratitude Boosts Willpower
Finally, the research also tested how impulsive people were. Scientists asked people if they wanted $30 now, or were willing to wait for $50 at some time in the future. A scenario psychologists call “temporal discounting”. And it’s commonly used as a test for self-control.
The researchers found that those who had higher levels of daily gratitude were more likely to wait for the $50. Here’s what David said:
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.
That suggests that the more you regularly experience gratitude, the more self-control you have in various areas of your life.
And here’s something else that’s interesting. The researchers also measured individual levels of happiness during those daily check-ins. But they didn’t find any relationship between daily happiness and levels of self-control.
While happiness is great for our well-being, that goes to show you it isn’t everything. Happy people can still be impatient people.
So when it comes to exercising a little extra self-restraint, it seems that gratitude trumps happiness. And those with gratitude benefit from more willpower.