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More PsychNotes: Emotions

June 3, 2016       

Gratitude Associated With Self-control
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

slot machine
People who feel grateful have more self-control. Researchers Dickens and DeSteno (2016) determined degree of gratitude by having subjects complete a computer task during which the computer malfunctioned and they received help from another participant (who was part of the study). In addition, they measured self-control, happiness, and patience in daily life for several weeks. Finally, they determined self-control by offering greater monetary incentive for completing the tasks if they waited for compensation rather than receiving it right away.

The study showed that self-control was specifically related to gratitude but not to general levels of happiness. Thus, people who had higher levels of gratitude were more willing to wait for a larger reward than those who reported being happy but did not score as high in graditude.

However, it is not clear from the research whether increasing gratitude can increase self-control or whether those with a greater sense of gratitude are disposed to having more self-control as well.

Perhaps it may be worthwhile to conduct your own experiment. Given that increasing gratitude has other positive affects such as improved social relationships it wouldn't seem to hurt to increase gratitude and see if it improves your self-control and patience.

How can you increase gratitude?

1) Focus on gratitude. Primarily, increasing gratitude is related to a deliberate focus on what you are grateful for rather than on the negative. For example, the person who breaks a leg falling down the stairs and says, “I'm grateful I didn't break my neck!”

2) Examine daily occurrences. Make an effort to look at your day and ask yourself why you are grateful.

3) Remind yourself. Once you have determined ways to perceive events with gratefulness develop a way to remind yourself frequently of why you are grateful. For some people this can be writing down the reminders. For others it may be a mental review while for others it may be sharing the feelings of gratefulness with someone else.

Dickens, L. and DeSteno, D. (2016).The Grateful Are Patient: Heightened Daily Gratitude Is Associated With Attenuated Temporal Discounting. Emotion, 16, 421– 425. DOI:10.1037/emo0000176l.

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