Given the limits of willpower, some psychology professors at Northeastern University began thinking about alternatives. Might experiencing certain emotions help curb our desire for the short-term gratification that comes from spending money? In particular, David DeSteno and his colleagues wanted to find out what role gratitude might play in squelching the desire to spend money.
DeSteno writes about the study in a recent Harvard Business Review blog, Gratitude Is the New Willpower. He and his colleagues designed an experiment that asked participants 27 questions designed to determine their willingness to give up immediate gratification for a bigger pay-off later. But before asking the 75 participants questions such as, Would you choose to receive $54 now or $80 in 30 days? the researchers first randomly assigned each participant to recall an event from their past that made them feel grateful, happy or neutral.