Gratitude Journals Can Help Kids Learn To Be Less Materialistic, New Study Finds

by Vanessa Taylor

Nobody wants to raise a super materialistic child, but the question of how to avoid that has become more complicated. Now, kids are exposed to mass marketing on a whole new scale and social media messaging that links happiness to specific products. A recent study, though, has found that teaching kids gratitude helps reduce materialism. Since mass marketing isn't likely to disappear anytime soon, it seems fighting back against its effects is going to be pretty important.

Sometimes, materialism is played off as a joke, or a growing point for characters. Although materialism might just seem annoying on the surface, it actually can have a significant impact on people's lives. A paper published by the Journal of Consumer Research found that materialism encourages social isolation, which in turns encourages increased materialism. Overall, according to The Guardian, materialism has been linked with depression, anxiety, and broken relationships.

Combatting materialism can be hard, especially for kids who have known nothing but mass marketing. As new generations are constantly bombarded with messages linking success to material wealth, many people are wondering how to challenge those messages.

It seems there's one key value that can help combat materialism and, according to a recent study, that's gratitude.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago looked into viable strategies for reducing materialism amongst young consumers. After working with a group of over 900 adolescents, the researchers had interesting results.

For the study, they began by surveying 870 pre-teens and teenagers, asking about their attitudes towards material items, along with their gratitude for people and things in their lives, as outlined by Forbes. They found that teens who expressed more gratitude were less materialistic, according to the study's abstract.

In the second part of the study, researchers took 60 teens and had half keep a gratitude journal, writing every day who or what they were thankful for, while the other half only recorded their activity for each day. The researchers noted they wanted to see what occurred when there was an intervention designed to increase gratitude.

Participants answered the same questions about materialism and gratitude at the end of their two-week journaling period, as outlined by Forbes. According to the abstract, researchers also gave everyone 10 $1 bills at the end of the two-week period, which they could choose to either keep or donate to charity once the researchers were no longer around.

"Using real money and donation as a behavioral measure, we found that adolescents who kept a gratitude journal donated 60 percent more of their earnings to charity compared to those in the control condition," the researchers wrote.

Researcher Lan Nguyen Chaplin said, according to Forbes:

"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."

Doing this in real life might seem difficult, but Nguyen suggested parents borrow the idea of a gratitude journal. According to Forbes, Nguyen said:

"The key would be to do it with your teenager. It's quality time. It helps you stay grounded. It helps your teenager stay grounded. It helps you build a special relationship with your teenager because you do it together. You can then discuss what you wrote or keep it private. But you will both have tuned into at least one reason to be grateful.”

Kids aren't the only ones affected by materialism. For parents and child, keeping a gratitude journal can be a good reflective activity when you're together. And, for those with younger kids, reflecting on gratitude is clearly a good habit to get them into — sooner rather than later.