If you want to raise less materialistic kids, ask them to journal gratitude

From an early age, children get exposed to a world of advertising teaching them to want more. More toys, more accessories, more access to watch and buy more things. How can parents combat a culture teaching them to say “gimme” and teach their children that they can be enough on their own? A new study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that a simple gratitude practice could curb the materialistic behavior of children.

The impact of gratitude starts young

Across two studies conducted among over 900 adolescents, the researchers found that gratitude could offset materialistic habits. To test the power of being a little more thankful, the researchers designed an intervention aimed to foster gratitude among 11–17 year-olds. In one of the studies, adolescents were randomly assigned to keep a daily journal for two weeks where they recorded who and what they were thankful for each day. After the experiment, they showed a significant increase in gratitude and a decrease in materialism, compared to the control group that just recorded their daily activities.

Children that practiced gratitude also showed more generosity. The journal participants were allowed to keep or donate the $10 they got participating; the gratitude journal group donated more than two-thirds of their earnings, while the control group donated less than half of the money.

The practice of gratitude can be adapted to each person, making it accessible for many to do. “In our research, we used a gratitude journal, but feelings of gratitude can also be enhanced by a daily gratitude reflection around the dinner table, having children and adolescents make posters of what they are grateful for, or keeping a ‘gratitude jar’ where children and teens write down something they are grateful for each week,” the study states. “The challenge of dialing down the level of materialism among today’s youth need not fall solely on the shoulders of busy parents, overburdened teachers, or underfunded governmental agencies.”

The researchers acknowledge that a grateful disposition may not be possible for very young children since it requires certain social cognitive skills —perspective taking skills, theory of mind, empathy— that may not be developed in young children. But adults certainly have the mental fortitude for it. Learning to be grateful for what you already have has been shown to boost the wellbeing of adults.

When you teach yourself to focus on what went right in your day, you begin to not worry about what went wrong as much. As media mogul and gratitude practitioner Oprah Winfrey puts it: “You radiate and generate more goodness for yourself when you’re aware of all you have and not focusing on your have-nots.”