Your Mother Was Right: The Amazing Power of Gratitude

Growing up, you probably frequently heard your mother urge you to be polite and always say “thank you” whenever appropriate. It turns out that saying “thank you” can have many more benefits than simply adhering to good manners. Recent research on the effects of gratitude continues to show benefits to those who adopt a gratitude practice in their daily lives. Expressing gratitude can lead to greater physical and emotional well-being, as well as feeling happier and more optimistic. Specifically, research has shown that those who practice gratitude not only have less depression and anxiety, but also have lower blood pressure and even a stronger immune system!

Dr. Allen Barton and Dr. Ted Futris, both of the University of Georgia, conducted a research study to explore the power that gratitude has in relationships. Their results showed that expressing gratitude, such as saying “thank you,” resulted in the following:

  1. There was reduced “demand/withdraw communication” between partners. This occurs when one person begins to be critical (criticize, nag, be demanding) of their partner, who then withdraws from the conversation in order to prevent an argument or confrontation from occurring.

  1. Increased financial well-being in the relationship.

  1. Partners felt more appreciated and valued by one another.

  1. Expressing gratitude consistently can help counteract the fallout for a couple in conflict.

  1. Gratitude can help people heal from negative conflict and shield them from the results of poor communication.

  1. Expressing gratitude helped lessen the negative impact on couples who were unskilled communicators.

This study also confirms previous research about how financial stress can have a negative impact on a relationship. Financial disagreement is one of the most common areas of conflict in a relationship. Examples of financial conflict can include:

  1. When one accrues credit card debt without sharing with their partner

  2. Not communicating the status of unpaid bills, such as utilities, rent, mortgage, or car payment.

  3. When one partner has a loss of income, such as losing a job.

  4. Hidden spending that you keep secret from your spouse (gambling, drug use, etc.).

  5. Philosophical differences in spending versus saving for retirement.

  6. Struggling to be able to pay for children’s college tuition.

  7. Experiencing a major health crisis that creates expensive medical bills.

How does expressing gratitude help with issues such as financial distress?  

Expressing gratitude helps create a “buffer” between you, your spouse (or partner), and the issue that you are in conflict about. For example, if a couple is in disagreement over hidden expenses, the couple will be able to approach the situation in a calmer, more constructive manner with one another if, at baseline, the couple has a sense that each values and appreciates the other. If there isn’t much gratitude expressed by either partner, they are much more likely to blame, criticize, or become angrier with one another.

Expressing gratitude does not actually prevent conflict from occurring, but it helps each person in a relationship to create an “emotional bank account” to draw upon when conflict does arise. Couples who do not have this emotional bank account or reservoir of gratitude (through positive emotional interactions), will be more likely to argue and be more emotionally reactive with one another.

Gratitude can also help a couple struggling in other areas of their relationship, such as having conflict regarding their sex life. In a similar way, having the reservoir of goodwill built up can help couples feel more connected, have more patience, and become more interested in understanding their partner’s experience. This maximizes the chance of resolving the conflict successfully and, at the very least, helps prevent the conflict from causing significant relationship damage.

In conclusion, expressing gratitude means more than just saying thank-you. Over time, the act of expressing gratitude can help build a reserve of positive emotions and feelings that couples can draw on when times get tough in order to cushion one another from the effects of negative interactions. In short, never underestimate the power of a “thank you” to help build a healthy relationship. To learn how to develop a gratitude practice (by starting a gratitude journal), go here.

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