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Count Your Blessings

Published by: Wes Brown, CFP® Date: December 04, 2016

Our house is abuzz with holiday excitement. My three children are each on (at least) their third draft of their Christmas list. It seems as though there’s something new to add almost every day.

It’s difficult not to want to buy our kids the things they want, to resist the “cultural fraud” behind the idea that having more will make them happier. But I know that the opposite is actually true – that having an attitude of gratitude is the key to happiness and that having too much impedes our ability to be grateful.

And, not only will being grateful make my kids happier, it may also help them make better financial decisions. Here’s how:

Whether it’s chasing the performance of last year’s hot funds, overspending on credit cards, or simply going for the immediate gratification that comes from spending today what you should have saved for tomorrow, literally hundreds of academic research papers say the same thing: the impatience will costs investors a fortune.

By contrast, investors who have the personal discipline to start saving young and invest strategically end up rich.

But what makes one investor patient and another impatient? In the past, the answer was willpower. But researchers just couldn’t explain why one investor had it and another didn’t. Now, researchers from Northeastern University, Harvard and the University of California at Riverside, seem to have found the key: Gratitude.

Put simply, grateful investors were willing to wait for rewards. Those who were merely happy or neutral were more likely to live for today, according to the research. The study came to this conclusion by asking 75 individuals to write about a personal experience before being presented with an economic choice. One group wrote about a happy experience; one group wrote about experiences that were emotionally neutral; and the third group wrote about an experience likely to generate emotions of gratitude.

The implications: If you have trouble with financial willpower, whether it’s an inability to pass up the shoe sale at the mall or the compulsion to chase yesterday’s hottest stock, you might want to meditate on something that makes you grateful before you act. It just might provide the necessary strength.

There are a lot of tried-and-true strategies for increasing your wealth: capitalizing on compound interest, spending less than we make, and investing wisely. However, the profound and immediate effects of gratitude shouldn’t be overlooked.

Here are three gratitude exercises that can benefit your financial life and your overall well-being:

Start by Acknowledging What You’re Grateful For Each Day

No activity you only do once in a while will make a worthwhile difference in your life. So how can you start practicing gratitude in your daily routine without it feeling like a chore? Make it a point each day to pick three things you’re grateful for and write them down, then share it with your family around the dinner table or in bed with your partner before you turn out the lights. These activities only take a few minutes and can quickly become habit. Before you know it, you’ll start reaping the rewards.

Remember, non-material wealth counts, too

Wealth takes many forms. Part of it is the amount in your bank account, sure. But part of it is also your health, your relationships, your enjoyment of life and your feeling of fulfillment. When you’re taking a look around your life for signs of abundance to be grateful for, don’t leave out your physical well-being, your amazing friends, your loving family and other forms of abundance that are non-material. When we put our attention on the ways we’re wealthy outside our bank account (while not ignoring our material wealth), it’s a lot easier to feel satisfied.

Re-examine how you define “rich”

Abundance is a mindset, not a dollar amount. Cultivating gratitude for the things you have now will make everything that is added feel like a bonus. No amount of money will ever make you wealthy. When you realize that you already have the resources you need to bring your vision of financial freedom into reality, you look at the world differently, you make different decisions, and you do the kinds of things that actually put you on the path toward the wealth you desire, without fear or doubt that you will reach your goals.

Wes Brown, CFP® is a Senior Financial Advisor with Rather & Kittrell.  He is available at wbrown@rkcapital.com