For thousands of years gratitude has been on the forefront of wisdom writers. From Aesop’s (620-560 BC) “He that is hard to please may get nothing in the end” to John Henry Jowett’s (1864-1923) “Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin and an antiseptic”. Throughout history the significance of gratitude has been no secret. However, over the past several decades research has shown us many of the specific benefits that being thankful can have. The impact on mental health alone is astronomical and can range anywhere from lowering signs of depression to developing healthier relationships. Here are just a few of the many research based findings about the impact gratitude can have on us:
An increase in overall happiness, self-esteem, exercise, productivity, income, and academic performance
Improved sleep quality, stronger immune system, and longer life expectancy
A reduction in stress, envy, aggression and desire for vengeance
Lower blood pressure and overall improved general health
Decrease in isolation and overall feelings of loneliness
Increase in meaningful relationships and desire to reciprocate socially & emotionally
Increased resiliency and ability to overcome trauma
Gratitude is the most important predictor of marital quality. It reduces conflict & strengthens marital resiliency. Consequentially, people who feel more appreciated by a loved one are likely to feel more grateful, thus creating a positive cyclical impact on their relationship. Conversely, contempt is one of the most significant predictors of relationship demise, and as such is very difficult to overcome. In fact, relationship expert John Gottman suggests that for every negative expression (complaint, frown, put down, expression of anger, etc.) there needs to be about 5 positive ones (smiles, compliments, laughter, expressions of appreciation and gratitude, etc.) – a 5:1 ratio.
Naturally most of us can identify with times when “ticked-off” doesn’t quite capture the way you’re feeling about a conflict with a loved one. Rather than showing signs of contempt, I encourage you to find a minimum of three things this week to dote on your loved one about, and then to make a significant effort to show them how thankful you are for these things. Jot down a few thoughts of fondness & admiration about your partner and create a running list of things you’re thankful for about them. The research is clear that gratitude is the greatest predictor of success in a relationship.
For couples in conflict this will likely not be an easy task. I encourage you to try to be aware of your tendency to criticize and point out what is lacking. I am not suggesting you live in a state of denial. On the contrary, gratitude only works when you are truly grateful for something real. Instead, try to acknowledge those three things that you really do admire or appreciate and see what happens!