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Why Expressing Gratitude Strengthens Our Relationships

Five ways relationships are strengthened through gratitude.

Noelle Otto/Pexels
Source: Noelle Otto/Pexels

Do you have one person in your life whom you feel grateful for? Perhaps two or three persons? How often might you say "thank you" to him or her for what they do or who they are? Expressing our appreciation for persons we are grateful for can strengthen our relationships in deep, meaningful, and rewarding ways.

Research shows that expressing gratitude for those we care about can improve the relationship for both parties by bringing us closer to the other individual and sustaining the relationship for the long-term. If you need more convincing, here are five ways that relationships benefit by showing gratitude:

1. Expressing gratitude shows you care. When we show gratitude toward another in a relationship, we acknowledge a trait found in the other person. Psychologist Sara Algoe and researchers, in the first study demonstrating that gratitude strengthens relationships, writes, “Relationships with others who are responsive to our whole self—our likes and dislikes, our needs and preferences—can help us get through difficult times and flourish in good times.”

By showing responsiveness to our whole selves, expression of gratitude in and of itself shows we care for the recipient of that gratitude. Expressing gratitude is a powerful way of displaying our affection, and in terms of our relationships, brings us much closer together.

2. Expressing gratitude acknowledges a good deed by the other person. Professor of psychology Barbara L. Frederickson describes gratitude serving in part as a “moral barometer.” In her book, The Psychology of Gratitude, she goes on to explain that gratitude “provides a reading of the moral significance of a situation..” and how the recipient of said gratitude acknowledges benefiting from a “moral action.”

When we say "thank you" to another, we often respond with appreciation for this good deed, put another way. Our appreciative acknowledgment reveals an exchange of give and take. By serving as this “moral barometer,” gratitude allows the two sides of the relationship to initiate or respond to goodness, which ultimately deepens the relationship, making it more meaningful to both parties.

3. Expressing gratitude reciprocates the kindness shared and felt in your relationship. In addition to serving as a response to a good deed, expressing gratitude reciprocates kindness in our relationships. There is plenty to be said about kindness, too. After former NBA basketball star Kobe Bryant died in a tragic helicopter accident, scores of acquaintances hailed the player’s kindness off the court. By giving Bryant as an example, it is clear how sharing in feelings of kindness in our relationships really matters to both sides. So, why not share your appreciation for the individuals in your relationships? It can generate the kindness you might be missing.

4. Expressing gratitude celebrates the positive in your relationship, bringing both sides closer together. When our relationships might be missing kindness or the muster we’re looking for, gratitude can be a starting point to discovering the positive aspects of our connections. Celebration of good moments—perhaps via an uplifting social media post or a hand-written thank-you note—can help bring both sides closer together. When left unexpressed, our gratitude won’t pay off in our relationships and eventually towards our well-being, despite the fact that we care deeply for this well-being.

5. Expressing gratitude makes us feel happy, satisfied, and paves the way for future acts of kindness in the relationship. Robert Waldinger’s 75-year study on adult development describes how our relationships are the biggest predictor of happiness and health. So, if gratitude can strengthen our relationships, then why not combine both potent ingredients (quality relationships and gratitude) toward gaining a more satisfying life? In fact, just considering the gratefulness we feel towards others daily can be a strong start to boosting our relationships, optimism, and mental health.

By making us feel happy, satisfied, and encouraging the act of "paying it forward," gratitude strengthens our relationships and our lives on many levels.

Through strengthened relationships, we find greater meaning, depth in affection, and overall joy from the littlest of things—a compliment, a gesture—to the biggest of things—our overall satisfaction, optimism, attitude, and approach to living day-in and day-out. Let your gratitude for those you care about be the beginning of wonderful things to come.

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