How were you feeling the day you had to turn in the form telling your benefits department what percent of your salary you wanted to set aside for your 401K? Or the time you were deciding to rack up $5,000 in credit card debt so you and your spouse could take a two-week cycling vacation in the south of France? What mood were you in when you got that $10,000 check from your late aunt’s estate and were debating whether to invest it all in your Vanguard index fund or spend$1,500 on that leather jacket you’d been coveting?
A new paper by professors at Northeastern, Harvard, and University of California at Riverside says that if you were feeling a sense of gratitude when making those decisions, you would likely have put the maximum in your 401K, foregone the cycling trip and invested all $10,000 in your index fund. According to the paper, “Gratitude: A Tool for Reducing Economic Impatience,” to be published in the journal Psychological Science, most of us fight an impulse for immediate gratification when we make financial decisions, especially if we’re feeling sad or even just neutral about our state of affairs. According to the conventional social science wisdom, we make the best financial decisions when we take emotions out of our decision-making completely. But David DeSteno, a psychology professor at Northeastern University and one of the paper’s lead authors, says he and his colleagues have empirically proven that gratitude produces superior financial decisions.