Gratitude. Who knew that the act of giving thanks had such profound effects on so many things? The act of being grateful on a regular basis has been shown to diminish cortisol levels in the body by a significant amount and to increase variability in heart rate coherence patterns, both of which are an indication of lowered stress levels (McCraty and colleagues, 1998).
In addition to improvement of personal health, expressing gratitude has recently been shown to have a clear protective effect on relationships. In a study that recently appeared in the journal “Personal Relationships,” results indicated that expressions of gratitude helped relationships in measurable ways.
“Feeling appreciated and believing that your spouse values you directly influences how you feel about your marriage, how committed you are to it, and your belief that it will last,” says study co-author Ted Futris.
As Thanksgiving Day approaches, one of the best things we can do for ourselves and for our relationships is to engage in a daily practice of gratitude. This can be done in a number of different ways. Taking stock of the day, focusing before you go to sleep on five things for which you are grateful is one way. Writing them down seems to help anchor the experience. Notice how your body feels when you focus on things for which you are grateful – many people experience a sense of relaxing on the inside, perhaps a feeling of warmth. These steps can be personally helpful in alleviating stress.
Expressing gratitude to others seems to be remarkably helpful in keeping relationships on an even keel. Making a daily practice of expressing appreciation and gratitude to your partner, children, friends, and business associates really does make relationships better. I recommend to the couples with whom I work that thinking about, looking for, and expressing thanks on a daily basis is an incredibly powerful tool that can keep your relationship connected. Give it a try. You will be glad you did.
Happy Day of Thanksgiving!
McCraty, R., Barrios-Choplin, B., Rozman, D., Atkinson, M. & Watkins, A. (1998). The impact of a new emotional self-management program on stress, emotions, heart rate variability, DHEA and cortisol. Integrative Physiological & Behavioral Science, 32, 151-70.
Barton et.al, Linking Financial Distress to Marital Quality: The Intermediary Roles of Demand/Withdraw and Spousal Gratitude Expressions, Personal Relationships, 22, (2015), 536-549.
About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:
Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.” Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com
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