Using Gratitude to Improve Your Relationships this Thanksgiving

Jenni Jacobsen

As Thanksgiving rolls around, we are reminded of the importance of expressing gratitude. Perhaps you're thankful for good health, remaining employed, or making it almost to the end of another year amid a global pandemic. For many of us, we also have a reason to be grateful for our relationships, whether it's with a spouse or significant other or with our closest friends.

Despite the fact that we may be thankful for the people in our lives, the reality is that we can begin to take those closest to us for granted. Perhaps we forget to take time to express what they mean to us, or maybe we've been so caught up in our own stress that we have taken our frustrations out on those who mean most to us.

Whatever the situation is, this Thanksgiving, we would all benefit from taking time to express gratitude toward our loved ones. In fact, the impact of gratitude is so strong, we should be practicing it year-round.

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Taking time to express gratitude can improve relationships, according to numerous studies.Kimberly Appelcline

How Gratitude Affects Long-Term Relationships Like Marriages

Your spouse or long-term partner is probably the person you're closest to in life, but it's easy to forget to show our gratitude toward our significant other when we live with them day in and day out, facing all of life's challenges together. In the beginning stages of a relationship, we tend to shower each other with compliments and make our partners feel like we are grateful for them, but as the honeymoon phase wears off, expressions of gratitude may become less common.

If you haven't told your husband or wife, "I appreciate you," or, "I'm so grateful for all you do to support this family," lately, now is the time to speak up, especially if you're going through a rough patch in your marriage. A study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that people who felt higher levels of gratitude were happier in their marriages, and their partners were happier, too.

A second study, published in a 2020 edition of Contemporary Family Therapy, arrived at similar findings, as results showed that individuals who were higher in gratitude were happier in their marriages, and their spouses were also more satisfied. An additional finding of this study was that gratitude was linked to a trait called mindfulness, which means being present in the moment. It might be that individuals who are grateful are able to enjoy the present moment, without worrying about the future or lamenting over past transgressions in the relationship, which could, of course, lead to more happiness within the marriage.

Gratitude in Other Relationships

Romantic relationships are not the only type of connection that benefits from a little gratitude. A study in the International Journal of Organizational Analysis found that millennials who had higher levels of gratitude experienced more friendships at work and therefore enjoyed increased wellbeing in the workplace.

Another study found that individuals who display a high degree of gratitude are more socially inclusive, and they're willing to sacrifice their own desires in order to benefit others. This would certainly facilitate the development of strong friendships and close interpersonal relationships.

It's pretty clear that gratitude is beneficial, but what exactly is it? According to a report from the University of Berkeley, gratitude requires a person to acknowledge that there are good things in this world, and that they've benefited from these good things. It also requires people to recognize that other people in life, as well as a higher power, have blessed them with good things.

Once you recognize that you have been blessed and others have played a role in these blessings, you're likely to experience stronger relationships. You can facilitate gratitude by keeping a journal in which you list three positive things that happen each day, or by writing a thank you note to someone to express your appreciation for them. You might also take a moment to reflect upon how your life would be different without the people in it, which can increase your gratitude toward them.

Given the benefits of gratitude in relationships, let this Thanksgiving be the time you begin to cultivate the habits above. Hopefully, they will be impactful enough that you will continue to be intentional about showing gratitude for others.

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Jenni Jacobsen is an Assistant Professor in a social sciences department at a small liberal arts college in central Ohio, and she has been producing content on relationships, mental health, addiction, and general health and wellness for over 10 years. Most of her content is on healthy relationships, relationship improvement, communication, resolving conflict in relationships, and the impact of mental illness and attachment styles on relationship satisfaction.

Ashland, OH
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