The Psychological Uniqueness of Dhanteras
Dhanteras breaks the cycle of spending on immediate gratification and focuses on spending on delayed gratification.
The festival of Diwali begins with the celebration of ‘Dhanteras’. The auspicious day, which is celebrated on the thirteenth day of the Krishna Paksha, embodies the spirit of increasing wealth and prosperity. Dhanteras marks the purchase of precious metals (gold and silver), utensils, and cleansing rituals so that Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, showers her blessings. Additionally, by the guidance of the ancient scriptures, people illuminate their homes by lighting 13 diyas to keep evil at bay and seek blessings from Yamaraj, the God of Death.
Interestingly, the analysis of its second-order effects shows that this festival promotes savings and futuristic thinking, which enables prosperity. From a psychological perspective, the requirements of Dhanteras unconsciously ‘nudge’ people towards making decisions that work towards a secure future. This festival makes people invest in gold, which is an asset class with some of the highest long-term returns. Thus, it has a latent function of long-term planning through savings and investment accomplished through the purchase of gold. This helps people forgo immediate gratification and reap the benefits of delayed rewards. The treatment of money, investment, rewards, and gratification is unique to Dhanteras when compared to any other festival.
The festival encapsulates a story that defies death simply by foregoing immediate gratification.
King Hima’s son is destined to die from a snake bite on the fourth day of his marriage. This also happens to be a night of ‘Karthik.’ His wife decides that she will not let this happen. She does not allow him to go to sleep and sings songs to keep him awake so that, in case a snake comes, they can save him. She also lights diyas and uses her ornaments to dazzle Yamaraj, the God of Death. This simple act of foregoing the immediate gratification of blissful sleep and enduring a little bit of discomfort defies death. She is successful in saving her husband. Snake fails to bite, and Yamaraj is dazzled and pleased by all the light and returns.
Festivities and the desire for immediate gratification
With the arrival of festivals such as Dussehra, Navratri, and Deepavali, we have a desire to buy new clothes, food, and gifts and travel to our native homes and back. This is evident in the huge number of people spending large sums of money to make their celebrations and prayer ceremonies grand by making grand pandals, stunning idols, theatrical performances, dance events, and firecrackers.
Additionally, people travel, share gifts, and make major purchases, such as new cars and refurbishing and repainting (at least white-washing) their homes. All sellers (small and large) and manufacturers give discounts to increase their sales, and people love grabbing the opportunity and spending even more. All this spending leads to continuous, immediate gratification that makes us happy. This turns into a cycle of spending and getting immediate gratification. The day of dhanteras also calls for major spending but is in sharp contrast with other festive spending in terms of gratifications.
Breaking the cycle of spending and immediate gratification
In all spending and purchase situations, we face a conflict between a small immediate pleasure and a large future benefit. This is called intertemporal choice since it involves an amount of time (days, months, weeks, or years) that one has to wait to get the larger future benefit. Psychology and marketing research shows that we find it extremely gratifying to spend on events, clothes, food, gifts, travel to our native home and back, diyas, and firecrackers. This immediate pleasure leads to future costs such as less savings, little investment, and consequently, less future wealth and prosperity. We might be left with less money when we fall sick and may need major spending on health care, or we may be left with little money for our future generations. We do this because we tend to attach less value to future benefits as compared to immediate gratification. Hence, we tend to discount the future benefit.
With all the festivals coming one after the other, we are caught in a cycle of spending and gratification. Dhanteras breaks this cycle of spending on immediate gratification and focuses on spending on delayed gratification. On this day, we buy gold that will increase in value and become more valuable as compared to a car that will decrease in value. Thus, the cost of the gold will be recovered, and much more. Dhanteras does this by ‘nudging’ people towards future financial stability. The nudge comes from tradition and good fortune, thereby encouraging people to indulge in a choice that leads to a delayed but larger reward.
The practices of Dhanteras empower an individual to gain financial security, which allows for planning for the future. It creates a pattern of yearly investing and saving that, in the long term, will reap bountiful rewards. Dhanteras subtly promotes futuristic thinking by linking present actions with future outcomes. By participating in the tradition of buying gold, silver, or utensils, individuals are nudged to envision a prosperous future. This act aligns with the idea of investing for long-term gain, instilling a sense of optimism and hope for a better future. It encourages individuals to engage in actions that symbolize wealth, prosperity, and future-oriented thinking, intertwining tradition with economic behavior.
- Berns, G. S., Laibson, D., & Loewenstein, G. (2007). Intertemporal choice–toward an integrative framework. Trends in cognitive sciences, 11(11), 482-488.
- Schmidt, A. T. (2017). The power to nudge. American Political Science Review, 111(2), 404-417.
Kimberly Roy, Undergraduate Student, FLAME University
Dr. Shruti Goyal, Faculty of Psychology, FLAME University &
Dr. Abhishek Sahai, Faculty of Psychology, FLAME University