Gratitude for Experiences vs. Material Goods
Article by Thomas Gilovich
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Scientific research links gratitude with generosity and healthier interpersonal relationships. Research also suggests that one way to promote gratitude is to invest in experiences rather than material goods because experiences are more likely to produce deeper and longer lasting feelings of gratitude.

Pastors can use sermons to nurture gratitude in congregants. Time should be set aside to take part in practical ways to cultivate a thankful spirit and express gratitude to others. Pastors might also organize events that bring people together for gratitude-inducing experiences.

“We quickly adapt to our material possessions and soon we hardly notice that the new furniture is any different from the old. But paradoxically perhaps, our supposedly fleeting experiences endure.”

-Thomas Gilovich

What to Consider

  • What is an experience you have had for which you are grateful? What is a material possession for which you are grateful? Has one made you happier over the long-term than the other?
  • Does gratitude affect your spending patterns? Do you consider what you will be more grateful for ten years down the line?
  • Can you think of a time when gratitude for an experience cultivated generosity toward others?
  • The article concludes with a question that is worth contemplating: “How can we cultivate gratitude in our increasingly materialistic, consumerist world?”

How to Go Deeper

  • Plan a service day that helps maintain your local community infrastructure so that community members have a place for gratitude-inducing experiences. You might clean up a park, maintain a hiking trail, or help garden at a community center.
  • Organize an all-church event that focuses on bringing people together through shared experiences. Later, offer a time for participants to share the things for which they were most grateful.
  • Preach a series on gratitude. Take time in each service for congregants to share stories of thanksgiving.

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

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About the Author:

Zach is currently a PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary researching the role of leaders in congregational change. His calling in life is to train and equip pastors to faithfully lead local congregations. When not studying, he'll most likely be watching Sporting Kansas City score goals or hiking with his wife and two kids.


  1. May 17, 2017 at 7:53 pm

    This seems to make sense of current trends among millenials. Millenials spend disproportionately more on travel (even when we can’t afford it!) than on longer-term material goods (homes, furniture, cars). I wonder if rates of gratitude are higher among my generation or not though compared to other generations? My guess would be not…

  2. May 17, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    ^^ Millennials**

  3. JarrodCraw May 25, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    This is interesting to me because many churches miss out on experiences in service and instead just want to be able to give money and let someone else ‘do it.’ Getting people to invest in such experiences could have real-life impacts.

  4. aidenkang May 31, 2017 at 2:30 am

    I don’t know if there’s anything we can do to “cultivate gratitude in our increasingly materialistic, consumeristic world.” I think even the current trend towards pursuing happiness through experience is more of a reaction against the previous generation’s pursuit of happiness through material goods. I think until we come to the end of ourselves, in terms of pursuing happiness through experience and/or material goods, we have difficulty with the concept portrayed in Ecclesiastes that everything really is vain until we come to rest our restless hearts in God.

  5. aidenkang May 31, 2017 at 2:34 am

    An experience for which I’m grateful for is standing on Table Top Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, overlooking the coast of that great city as well as being drenched by the waterfall at Victoria Falls in Zambia, Africa.

  6. Thomas June 29, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    I love this article and its argument for experiences over material possessions. Although it can be easier and more convenient to provide our loved ones with material possessions may we have the commitment and love to provide them with experiences that will truly be a gift that will lasts longer than any material possession. Thank you for this article!

  7. August 12, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    This is a really helpful article. I wonder if in the future the rise of social media will affect this in anyway. I have noticed among my friends an increasing pressure to go on really great adventures and to have great experiences so that they can post about them on their instagram account. I would think that the pressure of taking the perfect photo or getting the maximum number of likes might detract from the experience a bit.

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