I listened to a podcast on Hidden Brain about the benefits of gratitude. I was surprised to hear that a strong gratitude practice can help us with self-control and delayed gratification.
The speakers — a journalist and a psychologist— referenced the marshmallow experiment. The one where children are told they can have one marshmallow right now or they can wait a few minutes until the adult comes back and have two marshmallows. The kids who could wait ended up having more achievement and success as adults. This experiment has been disputed based on the homogenous socioeconomic status of the original pool of children used.
However now there is a new adjusted adult version. Apparently, if an adult is told to conjure feelings of gratitude and then afterward given a choice of having $17 now or $100 in a few months, they are more likely to delay gratification.
Feeling valued helps extend our outlook
The psychologist said knowing we have people and things we value and who value us, makes our future seem safer, therefore we can wait for the long term benefits.
For example, if we take the time to reflect on the things we have, then it feels OK to put more money into savings. We do not need to spend money this instant because we already have many things to be grateful for.
Gratitude sparks generosity
Research also points out that if we feel fortunate and reflect on our blessings, then we are more likely to be generous with others. This plays out in the pay it forward in the drive thru line scenario. One person pays for the food for the person behind them in line and then the next person does the same. We feel so thankful for that first unsolicited gift, that we want to do the same for someone else.
Will power is not enough
So the next time you need will power or self control, pause and think about what makes you grateful. Who makes you feel valued? What makes you feel valuable? It might just help you maintain control and delay gratification.
What are you grateful for? Do you have a gratitude practice?
P.S. I also use gratitude to help me fall back asleep at night. When I wake up too early and can not get back to sleep, I think about three things I was grateful for the day before and three things I anticipate will be wins the next day. It is a nice calming practice. Try it!