A little gratitude could be just the thing you need to enhance your relationship.
Relationships are a cornerstone to human experience. From the moment we enter this life, we start on a path that will bring with it social connections that provide lasting memories and elicit a range of emotions and feelings. Relationships are powerful and can impact a person’s wellbeing from all directions. At their best they can stimulate strong positive emotions such as joy, excitement, wonder, and love. On the other end of the spectrum they can bring about fear, trepidation, anxiety, and sadness.
As people strive for the elements that bring about greater happiness in their lives, it’s no surprise that increasing interest as to what facets can lead to higher positive affect and functioning in a relationship has gained momentum over the past few years. One such method, which has shown to be effective and successful in influencing positive change in a relationship, is feeling and expressing gratitude to one another.
What is gratitude?
In recent years, evidence has emerged that suggests gratitude is strongly related to a person’s wellbeing  and can aid in fostering positive relationships. Gratitude has been described as the “recognition of a positive outcome from an external source, including a felt sense of wonder or thankfulness for benefits received” . In other words, gratitude is generally triggered by the perceived recognition that one has received benefit from another .
Conceptualised in a number of ways, gratitude is most commonly associated with a moral virtue, personal trait or emotional state . These constructs are associated with high levels of a person’s wellbeing which impacts all facets of the individual’s life. Historically gratitude has been labelled “not only the best, but the parent of all other virtues” [5 pg 139] due to its supremacy in preserving and building social relationships. As a personal trait, gratitude is highly correlated with an individual’s life satisfaction  and as an emotional state it is commonly shown through appreciation, a sense of wonder and thankfulness .
The benefits of gratitude on wellbeing and relationships
Expressing gratitude has been found to be effective in enhancing an individual’s wellbeing and improving social bonds and connections. Personal benefits of gratitude can be derived in numerous ways. For example, grateful thinking can promote savouring positive experiences and can led to the maximum possible enjoyment from circumstances . Grateful people have been found to be more open, agreeable, extraverted, conscientious and less neurotic  as well as experiencing greater life satisfaction and optimism . In addition to this, sharing grateful feelings can provide relational benefits. A study by Algoe, Haidt and Gable (2008) focused on the relational experience of gratitude and its consequences for relationship formation . The evidence highlighted that thoughtfulness, relational appraisal and perceived responses were all found to be robust predictors of gratitude. It also confirmed that relationship formation and maintenance can be promoted through the emotion of gratitude and it may even create a cycle between the recipient and the benefactor that builds upon their connection . Further research suggests that gratitude can increase each individual’s satisfaction with the relationship as well as demonstrate predictive efficacy for their partners happiness . In other words, the more gratitude you feel and express, the more likely you are to have a partner that is happy in the relationship – and we all want that!
Cultivating gratitude in your relationship
Within this ever fast paced world we live in, distractions coming from all angles, it’s little wonder that day to day experiences get lost within the chaos of the moment. This leaves little time for acknowledgement or recognition of our partners when they may have significantly impacted our day in a good way. The adage ‘stop and smell the roses’ is apt for gratitude. It’s the ability to pause, reflect and express thankfulness for all the things that your partner does for you. Shifting towards a more grateful mindset will change the lens in which you view each other and can make a significant improvement in the way you relate to one another.
The techniques for augmenting gratitude are relatively simple and can easily be integrated into a regular practice. The following exercises are designed to arouse feelings of gratitude and provide the means by which gratitude can be expressed easily and openly. They can be undertaken individually or as a couple.
- Gratitude journaling – each day write down at least three things your partner did that day that you are grateful for. At the end of the week share the list to the recipient.
- Gratitude letter – write a letter of gratitude to your partner about a time where you felt they had benefited you but you had not yet adequately thanked them. Then share the letter with your partner .
You can continue the exercises for as long as you wish, however once you stop actively practicing gratitude the derived benefits from the exercises will diminish over time. If you want a sustained and lasting positive change implement an ongoing gratitude practice that you and your partner can enjoy doing together.
Gratitude is a simple yet powerful way to improve your wellbeing and experience a happier, healthier relationship. So start showing a little gratitude – you’ll be thankful you did!
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