PHILADELPHIA — Madonna sang fondly of the material world. But in a place of abundance, how do we teach our kids to distinguish between a necessity and a want? A new study finds it may be as simple as making gratitude a daily priority for our children.
Materialism may be more common than ever, and it adds to an abundance of anxiety and depression, not to mention more people with Scrooge-like traits. A team of Villanova University and other university researchers has some ideas to check those gimme tendencies in kids.
“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,” says study co-author Lan Nguyen Chaplin, associate professor of marketing at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in a release.
For the study, 870 youths across the United States ages 11 to 17 completed an online materialism survey. Participants were asked to weigh the value of eight monetary and material items, and four measures of thankfulness for the people and possessions in their lives.
The research team then tried an experiment with 61 adolescents who were asked to complete the same four-item gratitude measure and eight-item materialism measure. The students were then randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group was tasked with keeping a two-week gratitude journal, in which they wrote down what they were thankful for each day. The second group simply recorded daily activities.
The journals were gathered at the end of the two-week period and the participants were again asked to complete the thankfulness and materialism measures. They also were given ten $1 bills for their participation and told that they could either keep all the money or give some or all to a charity.
The results showed that those who had kept a gratitude journal were significantly more grateful and less materialistic. The control group, which had focused on recording daily activities, stayed at the same pre-journal levels of thankfulness and materialism.
Participants in the first group were also more generous than the control group. Youth who had written about who and what they were thankful for wanted to give away two-thirds of their participation earnings, while those who had recorded daily activities decided to keep more than half of what they earned for themselves.
“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,” Chaplin concludes.
Study authors say parents can encourage an attitude of gratitude by spending time daily, maybe around the dinner table, sharing what each family member is thankful for. Other ideas include making thankfulness posters or gratitude jars to collect thoughts of thankfulness.
Materialism is a first-world problem. Countering it starts with counting our blessings.
The study was published on August 1, 2018 in the Journal of Positive Psychology.