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Teaching gratitude helps counter materialism in children and teens

Researchers say the strategy can help prevent selfish behavior

Photo (c) fstop123 - Getty Images
With new technology and gadgets always on the horizon, many people get in the habit of always seeking out the next great thing. This has become particularly troublesome among parents who may be worried that their kids are focusing too much on material objects.

A new study published in Psychology Study explores the different ways parents can go about raising children that are less focused on obtaining material possessions and more concerned with feelings of gratitude.

“Our findings show that it is possible to reduce materialism among young consumers, as well as one of its most common negative consequences (nongenerosity) using a simple strategy -- fostering gratitude for the things and people in their lives,” wrote researcher Lan Nguyen Chaplin.

Focusing on gratitude

The researchers’ main hypothesis was born from the idea that those who express gratitude will be more present and thankful for the people and things in their lives -- and be more generous -- than those who don’t.

To prove that theory, the researchers performed a three-part experiment. They started by evaluating a nationally representative study of over 900 adolescents aged 11 through 17 and found the link between gratitude and decreased materialism.

By step three, the large group had been cut down to just over 60 participants. The researchers divided the remaining subjects up into control and experimental groups and had them keep journals while completing different activities.

The control group’s assignment was to log their daily activities, while the experimental group was instructed to log who and what they were grateful for each day. The groups did this for two weeks, submitted their journals to the researchers, and then filled out materialism and gratitude self-assessments.

In addition to the materialism aspect, the researchers were also interested in seeing if generosity was tied into the study in some way. To that end, they gave each participant 10 $1 bills to do what they wished with -- either save the money or donate it.

“The results of this survey study indicate that higher levels of gratitude are associated with lower levels of materialism in adolescents across a wide range of demographic groups,” said Chaplin.

Gratitude overcomes materialism

Overall, the group that kept the gratitude journals was both less materialistic and more generous. They donated over two-thirds of the money they earned in the study, and their self-assessments showed a decrease in materialistic qualities and an increase in gratitude.

The opposite was true of the control group that kept a log of their daily activities. While their levels of gratitude and materialism remained consistent over the course of the study, they donated under 50 percent of the money they earned in the study.

The researchers say the results are promising and encourage parents to keep gratitude at the forefront of many family traditions in an effort to keep kids less concerned with material things and more grateful for who and what they have in their lives.

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