Gratitude to the Rescue!

iStock_000016233501Small_erThe research is in, and it’s pretty conclusive. The last decade has provided us with lots of new information on the practice of gratitude. Study results repeatedly illustrate a multitude of benefits for those who’ve implemented a gratitude practice in their lives.

Overall, people who develop an attitude of gratitude experience enhanced physical and mental well-being. By generally showing and feeling gratitude in their daily lives, they are happier and more optimistic.

Those who appreciate the world around them tend to be pro-social leaders, are more cooperative, and experience less envy and possessiveness. Additionally, these folks have less depression and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and a stronger immune system.

Couples researcher Sara Algoe, Ph.D, and her colleagues at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, found that partners who practice gratitude are happier with their relationship and feel more intimately connected to each other. Practicing gratitude was also predictive as to which couples would stay together and which relationships would be more likely fall apart nine months down the road.

So, what exactly does it mean to show gratitude in a relationship?

Being appreciative of your partner includes much more than saying thanks for picking up milk at the store after work. It’s not just about expressing appreciation for what he or she does, but also for who he or she is as a person. It’s often helpful to remember what drew you to your partner in the first place, and begin anew to appreciate and compliment their appealing personality characteristics.

Dr. Amie Gordon, gratitude researcher and writer for Psychology Today, reports that even when appreciation is expressed by only one partner, it can help both partners increase the level of commitment in their relationship. She and her colleagues, in a series of studies, concluded that there are four steps in a cycle of gratitude which can start from only one partner’s actions:

  1. Feeling grateful for your partner contributes to wanting to remain in your relationship.
  2. Feeling grateful for your partner also causes you to willingly work to keep your relationship healthy.
  3. Working to keep the relationship healthy makes your partner feel appreciated.
  4. When your partner feels appreciated, he or she will then feel and express more gratitude in return.

This cycle causes a chain reaction of gratitude, with both partners becoming more aware of each other’s cherished qualities (and behaviors).

If this sounds like a no-brainer attitude to incorporate into your life, it really is!

Here are some steps I recommend to start your own cycle of feeling, and expressing, more gratitude in your relationship:

  1. Take time to really reflect on your partner’s positive qualities. If this proves difficult, think back on what attracted you to your partner in the first place.
  2. Focus on giving to your partner. Expressing kindness and performing acts of service for others has been shown to increase our own happiness anyway.
  1. Take action in a special way to say thanks for who your partner is. Perhaps write a gratitude letter to your partner telling them what you appreciate about them, how they have affected your life, and what your relationship with them has meant to you. Then, go ahead and read the letter to your partner. This can have a tremendously positive impact on your relationship. (Don’t forget to bring the Kleenex!)
  1. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude in general. One easy way is to start a gratitude journal. Begin by writing down three to five things you are grateful for. It is recommended that you add new entries at least once a week or as often as every day, depending on what feels right for you. Click here for tips on keeping a gratitude journal.

Learning to appreciate and take in “the good” in life, while expressing gratitude to others (especially those closest to us) can greatly improve our physical and mental well-being. Over time, the habit of this practice helps us stay aware of the positive aspects of our life (and of our partner). Developing an attitude of gratitude also reminds us to consistently show appreciation, which will undoubtedly strengthen our relationships.

If you feel you need help cultivating a gratitude practice, don’t hesitate to seek out the professional assistance of an experienced therapist. The benefits are more than worth the effort to get there.

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