Psychologists and neuroscientists are discovering how the simple expression of gratitude as part of daily life improves well-being and relationships. Gratitude even makes you happier and healthier!
What do we mean by gratitude?
The Oxford English Dictionary says: gratitude is a feeling of being grateful and wanting to express your thanks.
Grateful people value others, enjoy the simple pleasures (sunshine, smiles…), they make a point of expressing their gratitude and are less likely to feel they are missing out in life (imagine no FOMO!)
Positive psychology is revealing the benefits of gratitude
Research studies have found that people who focus on things they were grateful for feel better about their lives, more optimistic and experience health benefits compared to those who looked at their daily irritations or just recall events that didn’t affect them positively or negatively.
Gratitude helps people experience positive emotions and get even more pleasure from good experiences. Importantly expressing thankfulness helps people deal with life’s struggles more positively, it can even be a great coping mechanism. There are physical benefits too: better health, sleep, increased energy levels, easing of depressive symptoms and more. Science is now discovering that gratitude helps people build stronger relationships, more on that in a moment.
In the process of expressing our gratitude we might recognise that the source of good things happening lies beyond ourselves: to other people, nature or God. Religious traditions acknowledge this and so science is validating ancient wisdom.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” The Bible — Chronicles 16:34
Research show that gratitude builds stronger relationships, love and intimacy
A report in the Harvard Mental Health Letter states: ‘A study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.’
Research also shows that generosity and gratitude work hand in hand with benefits for the giver and one receiving! It seems that expressing gratitude is linked to the release of oxytocin, sometimes called the ‘love hormone’, which is perhaps why a study has shown that participants giving and receiving thanks felt more loving and caring towards their partner.
A new psychology study showed that what really created greater bonds of intimacy for a couple was when a person went beyond the simple thank you. For example: instead of saying “thanks for dropping off my package”, saying something like “thanks so much for finding the time to take my package to the post office. I really appreciate you helping me as I’m having such a crazy week .” Basically you’re telling your partner how much you value them and how they meet your needs. This kind of praise was shown to be more beneficial to the relationship than just highlighting a sacrifice, such as: “thanks for dropping off my package, I know that going to the post office means driving out of your way”.
How to develop an attitude of gratitude
Gratitude is a way of life rather than just saying ’thanks for taking the bins out’! If you’ve grown up in a home where it’s been modeled to you then it will seem normal. But everyone can learn to develop the habit of expressing gratitude, here are a few ideas:
- Look back at your past and think about positive memories.
- ‘Count your blessings’ — yes, really! It’s good not to take good things for granted, express your thankfulness for things daily. Some people find it helpful to keep a ‘gratitude journal’, listing three things every day they are grateful for, to train their minds. The wisdom may be ancient but these days there are apps to help you grow a daily habit of counting those blessings.
- Try to start talking about the future in optimistic and hope-filled ways.
- Meditation and prayer can help too. People who meditate often focus on stillness or peace, instead focus on something about your partner that you are thankful for and ‘give thanks’ as you meditate. If you are someone who prays, express your thankfulness in prayer regularly.
How to enjoy the power of gratitude in your relationship
Here are our top three ideas for cultivating gratitude in your relationship:
- Make an effort to do small daily acts of kindness — bring your partner a cup of tea in the morning, tidy the kitchen, compliment him or her…
- Try to notice good things and show your appreciation when your partner says or does something kind or thoughtful. Whether it’s a small or large gesture, say thanks and what makes you grateful …how has your partner met your needs?
- Write your partner a love letter. Buy a card or nice paper (emails don’t really cut it!) and spend some time writing down all the things you love and value about your partner. (What is it that attracted you to your partner when you first met? What do you appreciate about him or her right now?
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