Biz Features

Bad News, Ingrates: Gratitude Helps You Make Better Decisions and Investments

by . April 4th, 2014

Can practicing gratitude help you invest better? Can being thankful help you make better choices? Conventional wisdom says that the best choices are made when decision makers are emotionally detached. A new study from Northeastern University suggests that might not be true.

Author David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University explains:

It’s our view that humans pos­sess the capacity for emo­tion because it serves adap­tive pur­poses…that doesn’t mean that some­times emo­tions can’t lead you astray. They can, but so can reason.”

In what they believe to be the first study of its kind, DeSteneo and his team tried to see if patience could be increased through joy and gratitude. To test this, they assigned 75 participants into three groups of 25 each.

One group was instructed to recall an event that made them happy, the second was made to remember an event they were grateful for, and the last group (the control group) was made to recount the events of a typical day. In each case, participants were made to write down their memories in detail for a set amount of time.

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Participants were then made to answer a test to determine what emotion they had actually experienced. The first group was predictably happier, the second more grateful, and the last felt more or less the same.

Lastly, participants were made to answer a questionnaire about receiving some money now, or receiving more in the future. As DeSteneo hypothesized, participants belonging to “team grateful” required a much larger sum in the present to give up the promise of more in the future.



The experiment calls to mind the “Stanford Marshmallow Test“, which sparked several studies over the span of decades that strongly linked patience with emotional intelligence and future success.

Here’s a reproduction of the classic test:


The study has several major implications for all entrepreneurs. Other studies we covered strongly suggest that willpower is finite and subject to various physiological factors – causing us to be antsy or impatient as we get hungrier, thirstier, or as we make more and more decisions. One controversial study even connects our brain’s glucose levels with how much willpower we have on tap. Other studies seem to refute the “finite” willpower idea altogether.

The study also possibly fills a gap that previous studies on willpower previously missed. It also provides a mechanism by which we can use our emotions to strengthen willpower and make more financially rewarding choices.

How You Could Benefit


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DeSteno explains: “If people get in a daily prac­tice of doing a grat­i­tude diary, it should but­tress their patience or impulse con­trol during the day. Or when you’re faced with a chal­lenging temp­ta­tion in the moment, rather than solely trying to exert willpower, simply stop­ping and thinking of some­thing you’re grateful for should enhance your ability to make a wiser decision…  if you allow yourself to feel grateful, it will take you less effort to do the right thing.”

The concept of “gratitude” has been extensively studied by DeSteneo. One particularly interesting paper Gratitude as moral sentiment: Emotion-guided cooperation in economic exchange showed that in financial and professional partnerships, grateful partners were more fair when distributing profits and generally behaved more ethically.

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If the results of these studies hold up over time, this could force a rethinking of management practices everywhere. Which could be interesting as the “greed is good” idea is still popular in some circles.

To some degree, nearly everyone who isn’t totally self-centered is grateful about something. This is reflected in nearly universal cultural practices and in the holidays we celebrate.

When we learn any new language, the equivalents of “thank you” and “you’re welcome” are some of the very first things we learn, and the last things we forget. We  dislike people who fail to give credit when it is due or fail to acknowledge us when we hold the door open. It’s already something anyone with empathy does.

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Being grateful— just doing more of what comes naturally to us doesn’t just make you a better human being – it makes you a much better investor too.

Image Sources

Grateful sign SnoShuu via photopin cc
Be Grateful via photopin cc
A Toast Toni Blay via photopin cc
Questionnaire albertogp123 via photopin cc
Diary Paul Watson via photopin cc
Libra mag3737 via photopin cc

Sources and Additional Reading

  • Gratitude as moral sentiment: Emotion-guided cooperation in economic exchange DeSteno, David; Bartlett, Monica Y.; Baumann, Jolie; Williams, Lisa A.; Dickens, Leah Emotion, Vol 10(2), Apr 2010, 289-293
  • Gratitude and Prosocial Behavior:  Helping When It Costs You Monica Y. Bartlett and David DeSteno Northeastern UniversityMonica Bartlett or David DeSteno, Department of Psychology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115, e-mail: or
  • Extraneous factors in judicial decisions Shai Danzigera,1, Jonathan Levavb and Liora Avnaim-Pessoa
  • Ego Depletion—Is It All in Your Head? Implicit Theories About Willpower Affect Self-Regulation Veronika Job, Carol S. Dweck and Gregory M. Walton
  • Self-Control Relies on Glucose as a Limited Energy Source: Willpower Is More Than a Metaphor Matthew T. Gailliot, Roy F. Baumeister,C. Nathan DeWall, Jon K. Maner, E. Ashby Plant,Dianne M. Tice, and Lauren E. Brewer Florida State University; Brandon J. Schmeichel Texas A&M University
  • Beliefs about willpower determine the impact of glucose on self-control Veronika Joba, Gregory M. Waltonb, Katharina Berneckera, and Carol S. Dweckb
  • Gratitude: A Tool for Reducing Economic Impatience David DeSteno, Ye Li, LeahDickens, Jennifer S. Lerner


Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.