Parents who are worried about their kids being materialistic can curb these tendencies, according to new research.
And that’s good news, as materialism has been linked to a variety of mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, as well as selfish attitudes and behaviors.
“Our findings show that it is possible to reduce materialism among young consumers, as well as one of its most common negative consequences — non-generosity — using a simple strategy: Fostering gratitude for the things and people in their lives,” said researcher Dr. Lan Nguyen Chaplin, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Illinois at Chicago and coauthor of the study.
After studying a nationwide sample of more than 900 adolescents between the ages of 11 and 17, Chaplin’s research team found a link between fostering gratitude and its effects on materialism. This suggests that expressing gratitude may decrease materialism and increase generosity among adolescents, the researchers noted.
The researchers first surveyed 870 adolescents, asking them to complete an online eight-item measure of materialism that assessed the value placed on money and material goods, as well as a four-item measure of gratitude assessing how thankful they are for people and possessions in their lives.
The researchers then conducted an experiment with 61 adolescents, asking them to complete the same four-item gratitude measure from the first study and an eight-item materialism measure.
The adolescents were then asked to keep a daily journal for two weeks. One group was asked to record who and what they were thankful for each day by keeping a gratitude journal, while the control group was asked to record their daily activities.
After two weeks, the journals were collected and the participants completed the same gratitude and materialism measures as before.
The kids were then given 10 $1 bills for participating and told they could keep all the money or donate some or all of it to charity.
Results showed that participants who were encouraged to keep a gratitude journal showed a significant decrease in materialism and increase in gratitude. The control group, which kept the daily activity journal, retained their pre-journal levels of gratitude and materialism.
In addition, the group that kept a gratitude journal was more generous than the control group. Those kids donated more than two-thirds of their earnings. Those who were in the control group and simply wrote about their daily activities donated less than half of their earnings.
“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 noted.
The researchers also suggest that materialism can be curbed and feelings of gratitude 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 was published in the Journal of Positive Psychology.