Feeling Grateful Isn't Enough to Improve Our Relationships

We must do this if we want to strengthen our connections.

Posted Nov 26, 2020

Mateus Souza on Pexels
Source: Mateus Souza on Pexels

Gratitude has become such a popular buzzword, especially during this time of the year.  Many of us have probably heard how important gratitude is for a flourishing life. 

Cicero argued gratitude is not the only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.

Of all the positive emotions, gratitude may be the most important for our individual and relational well-being, according to leading positive emotion researcher Dr. Barbara Fredrickson. That's because feeling grateful focuses our attention on what we already have, rather than on what we lack, in life. 

Fredricskon found that positive emotions like gratitude broaden our thought-action repertoire, making us more engaged and better individuals. They help us to build up physical, intellectual, and social resources we can tap later in life.  As a result, we naturally feel happier, experience an upward spiral of positive outcomes, and feel even more grateful – it’s like compound interest!  

Gratitude could be considered the crux of positive psychology in that it celebrates our assets, rather than our deficits, and reminds us of our gifts – and the good – in life.  

Counting one’s blessings is among the best-supported positive psychology interventions, according to Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology. He and social psychologist Christopher Peterson found that gratitude, along with love, zest, and hope, leads directly to life satisfaction. 

A powerful psychological phenomenon, gratitude is the strength by which all others are measured, enabled, and heightened. Eminent gratitude research Dr. Robert Emmons found that gratitude decreases negative affect and increases overall optimism.    

While gratitude comes more naturally to some people, everyone can be taught to consciously cultivate gratitude into a daily practice in order to increase their overall well-being. 

By focusing on an attitude of gratitude and abundance, rather than scarcity, we will, in turn, feel more grateful and fulfilled.  Practicing gratitude can help us feel even more loving, more joyful, and more creative. 

However, it's important to note that we can't just practice feeling grateful.

For optimal relationship satisfaction, expressing gratitude to our partners is essential.

Our partners are not mind readers. In one study, couples who expressed their gratitude well to their partners experienced a 50% chance of staying together six months later than those who didn't express their gratitude well. That's because their partners felt acknowledged, cared for, and understood. In other words, loved. 

After all, isn't that what we all essentially want in life: to be understood and loved.

Remember to take the time to not only feel grateful, but also to express that gratitude well to your loved ones today and every day by doing the following: 

  • Be authentic in your expression.
  • Focus on acknowledging and pointing out their strengths
  • Tell and show them daily how important they are to you. 

In sum, practicing gratitude on a regular basis can help us to better love and be loved in return.  

References

Algoe, S. B., Frederickson, B.L. & Gable, S. L. (2013). The social functions of the emotion of gratitude via expression. Emotion 13(4), 605-609. 

Emmons, R. A. (2007). Thanks! How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Frederickson, B.L. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of General Psychology, 2 (3), pp. 300-319.

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press/Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Pileggi Pawelski, S. & Pawelski, J. (2018). Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts. New York: TarcherPerigee.