Gratitude Might Be the Secret to Raising a Non‑Materialistic Kid
It’s the Catch-22 of modern parenting: As a parent who probably has more financial means than your own parents at the same age, you want to provide your child with the best you can afford — better than what you had. But you don’t want them to become an entitled, materialistic brat. So, how do you raise a non-materialistic kid?
A new study might have the answer. Published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, the research suggests one of the simplest ways to curb the desire for more is by fostering gratitude for who and what is already there.
The authors studied a nationwide sample of 900 adolescents, aged 11 to 17, finding a relationship between decreasing materialism and increasing gratitude. They then conducted their own study of 61 kids, some of whom were asked to keep a gratitude journal, while the others were asked simply to record their daily activities.
The same kids took surveys to measure their levels of materialism and gratitude before and after the journaling. The group that kept gratitude journals showed “a significant decrease in materialism and increase in gratitude,” while the kids who recorded their daily activities displayed no change in either trait. The kids who kept gratitude journals also turned out to be more generous: presented with an opportunity to donate part of their compensation for participating in the survey, they donated more than two-thirds of their earnings, compared to the other group, which donated less than half.
“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,” noted study author Lan Nguyen Chaplin, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Illinois in Chicago, US.
The authors have suggested practicing a daily gratitude reflection exercise during family dinners. This could involve having children and adolescents make posters of what and whom they are grateful for. Or it could involve keeping a gratitude jar, into which, once a week, kids place a slip of paper with something they’re grateful for recorded on it.
“I personally love the technique of a Happiness Jar to teach kindness: Every night, my family speaks about two events that contributed to our sense of happiness,” writes psychologist Sonali Gupta, whose family practices the gratitude jar technique. “We then write down these experiences and put them in the jar, to be read again in tough times. This is a very subtle way of teaching children how happiness goes beyond materialistic pleasures; they begin to recognize kindnesses, even if they don’t have the right words for it: One night, my daughter spoke about how she felt happy when a friend checked on her after she had a minor injury in school.”
Of course, none of this works if parents don’t participate in and model gratitude, too.