Surprising Links Between Gratefulness, Money and Happiness

Why some materialistic people are happier than others who are also materialistic

Posted Jun 27, 2015

Some recent research indicates that if you feel thankful and grateful in general, about your life, you're more likely to experience greater happiness than people who are more focused on their material wealth and possessions. But this isn't fixed in concrete: When people who are more materialistic have an experience that causes them to feel gratitude in some form, their level of happiness rises.

The study, summarized in BioSpace, was led by James A. Roberts of Baylor University. In the study, the researchers honed in on “the relationship between materialism – making acquisition of material possessions a central focus of one’s life – and life satisfaction.”

The researchers pointed out that many studies has already shown that more materialistic people are generally less satisfied with their standards of living, their relationships and their lives as a whole. Given that, the researchers wondered if anything could alter that relationship. That is, are there experiences that could help materialistic people become more satisfied with their lives? 

They raised the possibility that the experience of gratitude — which the researchers defined as the positive emotions you experience when another person intentionally gives or does something of value to you — might stimulate greater overall happiness within the more materialist –– and less happy –– individual.

The research, described and published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, initially confirmed what previous studies had found: “People who pursue happiness through material gain tend to feel worse, and this is related to negative appraisals of their satisfaction with life.” But they also found that the experience of gratitude, when it occurred, also raised their satisfaction with their lives. On the other hand, the more materialistic people who experienced little gratitude or positive emotions had the least life satisfaction, overall.

To me, the most useful aspect of this research is not so much the finding that materialistic people might become happier if they experience gratitude. That's good to see, of course. But I think it highlights that feelings of appreciation, thankfulness and gratitude in your life are building blocks of positive, healthy human development. They are integral parts of creating mutually supportive connections with others, in contrast to serving self-interest, alone. Especially when the latter is in the form of too much devotion to materialistc values and acquisition.

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