Gratitude Can Help Your Life and Marriage Be Happier and Healthier
How is gratitude good for us?
Studies have shown that gratitude impacts our level of happiness which in turn affects our physical and emotional health as well as the quality of our relationships.
An article on Harvard’s website dated August 14, 2021 titled, “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier“ says, “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
For me, it is harder to feel anxious or depressed when grateful. When I am grateful, I am a happier person. I have more energy and just overall feel better. A few years ago, I was lying in a hospital bed after two separate days spent in the emergency room due to extremely high blood pressure. Because my blood pressure was rising daily I was hospitalized. Lying there waiting to get a kidney biopsy, two doctors walked into my room that I had never met before nor since. I don’t remember their names or faces, but I do remember 3 frightening words they said to me: cancer, dialysis and transplant.
The next few months of navigating my disease and the medications prescribed to address my disease were very difficult and I had very little energy to do much of anything. What kept me encouraged and hopeful was an emphasis on gratitude.
I kept a daily gratitude journal. At the time, I was working as a middle school counselor and wrote emails to every staff member expressing very specific gratitude for what made them great educators and people. I heard a lot of encouraging feedback regarding what it meant to them, and I am glad for that. Most of all, I needed to get my mind off myself and think about and express my gratitude for others. For me, it was life changing.
How is gratitude good for our marriage?
I often hear the complaint that many spouses feel invisible to their mate. Gratitude helps people feel relevant. It’s like saying to them, “I see you. I see what you do. You matter.” Every person should feel visible to someone else—hopefully many someones, but no more importantly, than their spouse. Our gratitude can change our husband or wife from feeling invisible to being visible and valued.
Most people feel under appreciated. For some, it fills a deep need to have efforts acknowledged and appreciated. For others it is just nice to know they are appreciated and that what they do matters.
When I wrote my gratitude emails to the staff where I worked as a counselor, I received many responses from people who said they cried when they read my email. Some said they read the email over and over. Others said no one had ever showed such gratitude for their efforts at school. When people feel unappreciated, they often feel sad and lonely .Our expressions of gratitude can change tears of sadness to tears of warmth and acceptance. Our gratitude is powerful.
Why is gratitude such a hard habit to form?
Mostly, it is hard to be grateful because we don’t pay attention to what is going on around us. We are so busy with our lives, jobs and getting things done, we are not present enough to appreciate all we have and all that is going on around us. As I write this article, I stopped to enter in my gratitude journal a great time I had this morning having coffee with several good friends from the staff where I used to work. We all have awesome moments in our lives, but we often skip right past those moments rather than soaking in the good stuff that life has presented us.
Also, it is hard to be grateful because we can be glass-half-empty people focusing only on what doesn’t go our way. Everyday has its challenges. I get that. Life can be very difficult. We can’t ignore the hard stuff, but focusing on the good can change our view toward life and improve our relationships with other people.
What are some tips to change our gratitude?
Step 1: Relax. Be present.
Notice what is going on around you and soak in the good stuff. Learn to savor the great things in your life. We adapt to our environment so positives tend to fade into the background of our everyday lives.
Step 2: Give more energy to the positive and less to the negative.
Pay closer attention to the positive. By nature, we tend to have a negative bias which makes it so much easier to consider the negative rather than the positive. That is why negatives come to mind so easily. Retrain your brain to search for and relish the good in your life and in your spouse and marriage. That doesn’t mean you ignore the negative, but it does mean you keep a more balanced perspective.
Step 3: Make a gratitude list.
Focus on what you appreciate about your friends, family, job, etc. In a 2003 study by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, they found that counting your blessings creates a sense of gratitude. You may want to write down 3 things you are grateful for each day or a choose a few items each week. We can also easily adapt to gratitude lists and often writing them less often is more powerful than daily. That way, they don’t lose their punch.
Step 4: Share your gratitude with others.
Choose some people you are grateful for. Tell them, email them, write a letter, etc. Dr. Jaime Kurtz of James Madison University, states from a2003 study by Martin Seligman, “Paying a gratitude visit to someone and expressing or reading a gratitude letter to a person you have not properly thanked reported happiness that persisted for a full month”.