Gratitude is a strength of heart, and self-control is a strength of will.
David Brooks calls gratitude a eulogy strength — one others will fondly remember you for. Self-control, on the other hand, is what Brooks calls a resumé strength — one that helps you achieve your goals despite momentary temptations.
In data on adolescents, I’ve found that strengths of heart are related to friendship, whereas strengths of will are the clearest predictors of academic achievement.
But for a lot of reasons, the relationship between these strengths is a little more complicated. Here’s one: Gratitude facilitates self-control.
In one 2014 study, young adults were asked to write about an event that made them feel grateful. Compared to control groups asked to write about either a happy event or a typical day, young adults who reflected on gratitude preferred larger delayed rewards over smaller immediate rewards.
Why might gratitude facilitate self-control? The teens who wrote gratitude letters reported feeling less anxiety, worry, and other negative emotions — which in turn explained, at least in part, their improved eating habits.
Don’t leave gratitude behind after the winter holidays are over and you’ve rung in the new year.