With Love and Gratitude

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Gratitude Sparks Oxytocin and Love: Study Points to CD38

Gratitude may be the secret to a harmonious relationship and lifelong love.

Volumes have been written on ways to enhance relationships and find the magic that contributes to lifelong love. A new research study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience may have found the simple answer—gratitude. Researchers have determined that the naturally occurring hormone oxytocin and love are intimately related. The regulator of oxytocin release is a gene known as CD38 which figured prominently in the new study. Often called the love drug, oxytocin plays a role in bonding, maternal instinct, enduring friendship, marriage, and orgasms. Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D., says that oxytocin is a mingling of trust and physical touch, as well as love-making. Oxytocin: The Love and Trust Hormone Can Be Deceptive.

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Gratitude and Oxytocin

The study of 77 married heterosexual and monogamous couples was discussed in All You Need is Love, Gratitude, and Oxytocin, at the Greater Good Science Center and the findings indicate that gratitude is the “glue” that binds.

In the study, partners answered relationship questions for two weeks at home. They then made two visits to the lab where they were asked to be specific about a situation with their spouse for which they felt grateful.

After a thank you, they recorded and rated their feelings. Then they swaped roles. "Each partner then, got to be part of two different interactions: one in which he or she expressed gratitude and one in which he or she received an expression of gratitude."

Additionally four judges also rated what they observed. After the experiment saliva was tested for CD38 and it was found that “there is something about the genes that control our oxytocin system, which systematically predicts our ability to experience positive moments with someone close to us.”

Furthermore with expressed gratitude “participants reported that they felt more loving.“

"They also reported feeling more peaceful, amused, and proud. They perceived their partner as being more understanding, validating, caring, and generally more responsive. They were more likely to have reported spontaneously thanking their partner for something they’d appreciated on any given day. And they were more satisfied with the quality of their relationship overall.”

The recent study was from the GGSC at the University of California, Berkeley, which is collaborating with the University of California, Davison on a three-year project for the purpose of "Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude." 

Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis, is a leader spearheading gratitude studies from a scientific perspective along with Hofstra University professor Dr. Jeffrey Froh: 4 Ways Children Learn Gratitude.

In an earlier interview with Emmons he said:

"Gratitude is an attitude, not a feeling that can be easily willed." Even if you are not satisfied with your life as it is today, he pointed out, "if you go through grateful motions, the emotion of gratitude should be triggered. It is like improving your posture and as a result becoming more energetic and self-confident."

"Attitude change often follows behavior change. By living the gratitude that we do not necessarily feel, we can begin to feel that gratitude that we live."

Gratitude attitude boosters and choices

Smiling, saying "thank you," sending thank-you notes, and making gratitude visits are attitude boosters. Gratitude as an Attitude Sparks Love.

It seems that those who really expect that oxytocin can improve their love life, might first take a look at attitude. There is an interplay here in terms of love, gratitude, and all the positive feelings that intermingle to create harmonious relationships.

Keeping a relationship vital is about choices—the choice to love, to be grateful, and to forgive. It is so easy to be grateful during happy times, but who wants to be grateful when the world around you is falling apart? It seems unfairly contradictory, however, learning to be grateful during a low point may be the only way to attain the joy that oftentimes eludes us. If your relationship needs a lift, Revitalize Your Love Life with a Three Day Gratitude Plan.

Create lingering gratitude

As I read the study, I realized that that gratitude basket, which I suggested for Thanksgiving, should perhaps become a permanent household fixture filled and refilled with gratitude quotes, love notes, and thank you notes to those in your household. It will create lingering gratitude. 

We know that gratitude eases anxiety, alleviates stress, and can put a smile on an otherwise unhappy face. But gratitude in combination with oxytocin is magic.

Copyright 2014 Rita Watson

Photo courtesy of Thomas Kaufman for Les Cardes de Belville

Rita Watson, MPH, is an Associate Fellow at Yale's Ezra Stiles College and a columnist for The Providence Journal.

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