Thanks + Giving: UT Researcher Says Gratitude May be a Key to Happiness

keytohappiness‘Tis the season to be grateful. And being grateful for what you have may be the key to happiness, according to research by a UT professor.

Jeff Larsen, associate professor of psychology, and Amie McKibban of the University of Southern Indiana investigated whether the maxim “it’s more important to want what you have than to have what you want” is true.

He asked college students if they possessed fifty-two different material items, such as a car, a stereo, or a bed. They were then asked to rate how much they wanted the items they had and how much they wanted the items they didn’t have. Larsen calculated the extent to which the students want what they have and have what they want.

The result? People who want more of what they have tend to be happier.

“Simply having a bunch of things is not the key to happiness,” he said. “Our data show that you also need to appreciate those things you have. It’s also important to keep your desire for things you don’t own in check.”

So how can you be grateful for what you have? Larsen offers these tips:

• Don’t avoid people who have less. Try volunteering at a shelter or food bank during the holidays.

• Actively pay attention to and savor your things. Research shows that indulging in life’s pleasures in smaller doses, or even giving them up for stretches of time as Christians do over Lent, helps us enjoy them significantly more.

• When given the choice, invest in experiences rather than possessions. Research shows that experiences make us happier than possessions.

• When all else fails, avoid exposure to better things. “Although, this can be very difficult when cell phone companies roll out new phones every six months,” said Larsen.

The study is published in Psychological Science.

C O N T A C T:

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460, wheins@utk.edu)