5 Benefits of Being Thankful
Have you ever wondered how to make life better? How can you be happier, healthier, or more fulfilled? Having an attitude of gratitude could be one answer. You may have heard this little catchphrase before. It’s possible you just rolled your eyes, too.
But does being thankful work?
What is gratitude anyway?
Gratitude is the state of being thankful. It’s showing appreciation for what you have or receive.
Dr. Robert Emmons, the gratitude guru, takes the definition further. He describes it using two key components:
- Gratitude is “an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts, and benefits we’ve received.”
- Gratitude is our recognition “that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves.”
So, how can being thankful benefit your life? I’m so glad you asked.
Here are 5 benefits of gratitude:
1. Gratitude can help relieve stress.
We all deal with stress daily. Research has found that being grateful might keep our minds from getting so worked up worrying about things. When you’re in the middle of a stressful situation, refocusing on what you’re grateful for can calm the body and mind. This reduces the symptoms of stress.
When you choose gratitude over negativity, you also feel less emotionally charged. A sense of gratitude allows you to respond rather than react in the moment.
2. Gratitude can make you more positive.
According to psychologist Dr. Catherine Jackson, gratitude causes the brain to increase the production of dopamine and serotonin.
Dopamine is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. It’s associated with pleasure and reward. It contributes to focus, motivation, and happiness.
Serotonin is a chemical that is considered a natural mood stabilizer. It helps reduce depression, regulate anxiety, heal wounds, and maintain bone health.
So, a grateful mind allows you to feel more positive emotions.
3. Gratitude strengthens your relationships.
Relationships, whether romantic, family, or friends, can be full of disappointments. As we grow closer to others, we see their flaws. It can be easy to dwell on these. But an attitude of gratitude allows us to focus more on the good qualities. The more we focus on the good, the more positive attributes we’ll find.
A series of 2012 studies found that gratitude also increases empathy and reduces aggression. Gratitude motivates people to express sensitivity and concern for others. Aggression, however, is just the opposite and is reduced among grateful people.
4. Gratitude can make you healthier.
The more grateful you are, the healthier you feel. Research supports that, too. Those who practice gratitude tend to have better psychological health. Grateful people also involve themselves in healthy activities and are more willing to seek help for health concerns. Additionally, grateful people are more likely to take care of themselves.
5. Gratitude reduces your risk of depression.
Regularly expressing gratitude can lead to fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. Being grateful reminds us that not everything is bad. There are positives that we can focus on. Gratitude can make you feel more motivated, which pushes you toward your goals and dreams. A sense of hope helps to protect against depression.
Approaching life with thankfulness can have positive effects across all aspects of life. It’s good for you, and it’s good for your relationships. Choosing to be thankful and expressing gratitude for what you have can be a wonderful thing. And in case you didn’t know, gratitude is contagious. Your attitude of gratitude can create a ripple effect throughout your friends and family.
5 Keys to Being Thankful in Marriage
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A Grateful Heart is a Nonviolent Heart: Cross-Sectional, Experience Sampling, Longitudinal, and Experimental Evidence – C. Nathan DeWall, Nathaniel M. Lambert, Richard S. Pond, Todd B. Kashdan, Frank D. Fincham, 2012
Examining the Pathways between Gratitude and Self-Rated Physical Health across Adulthood
The impact of gratitude on depression and anxiety: the mediating role of criticizing, attacking, and reassuring the self
5 Keys to Being Thankful in Marriage
Being thankful in marriage is packed with research-backed benefits!
I know… this sounds like the beginning of a cheesy infomercial. But unlike many infomercials, this little factoid really is backed by science.
- Studies show that expressing gratitude for your spouse strengthens your marriage.1
- Being thankful is associated with increased long-term happiness in marriage.2
- Being thankful can have a healing effect when there are rifts in the relationship.3
- Thankfulness can help a person reframe negative experiences in a more positive light, giving a more hopeful outlook on their marriage.4
- And get this: Showing and receiving gratitude is associated with more satisfying sex in marriage.5,6
Thank goodness for being thankful!
But it’s important to understand that gratitude in marriage is a lot like a muscle: You need to exercise it. You need to strengthen and flex your thankfulness to enjoy the full benefit.
So how can you practice and strengthen thankfulness for a muscled-up marriage? Check out these keys to being thankful in marriage:
1. Journal your gratitude.
There is strong evidence that journaling what you are thankful for in your marriage improves overall well-being and marriage health.6 Try writing down three things you appreciate about your spouse daily. Look back on past journal entries for a dose of perspective and encouragement, especially on the tougher days.
2. Don’t just tell your spouse thank you. Let them know how they have helped you.
When you rub my shoulders, it helps me feel less anxious. Thank you!
I sure appreciate you cooking dinner; it made this day a lot less hectic for me!
Telling your spouse specifically how they meet your needs has been shown to build a stronger relationship. It can also reinforce your spouse’s positive feelings about your marriage.8
3. Keep a picture in your pocket.
Or on the visor. Or on your phone. (Wherever you’ll be reminded of your spouse regularly.) Gratitude is often prompted through our senses. Having a visual reminder of your spouse provides a constant nudge to count your marital blessings.
4. Practice mindfulness.
Doing mindful exercises to practice being “in the moment” can promote thankfulness.9 Mindful breathing, walks, and meditation10 are just a few practices that can strengthen gratitude and contribute to a healthy marriage.
5. Go through the motions (even when you aren’t feeling particularly thankful).
Robert A. Emmons, gratitude researcher at the University of California, Davis, explains that the motion of gratitude can trigger the emotion of gratitude. Prodding yourself to smile, say thank you, or write thank you notes to your spouse can help flex those thankfulness muscles. These actions help jumpstart more sincere feelings of gratitude.
Just like any muscle, being thankful in your marriage is something you can stretch and strengthen. Otherwise, gratitude can atrophy and weaken. If you want to get your marital thankfulness in shape, try one of the keys above. You can thank me later!
1Algoe, S. B. (2012). Find, remind, and bind: The functions of gratitude in everyday relationships. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6(6), 455–469.
2Gordon, C. L., Arnette, R. A. ., & Smith, R. E. (2011). Have you thanked your spouse today?: Felt and expressed gratitude among married couples. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(3), 339–343.
3Emmons, R. A., & Stern, R. (2013). Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(8), 846–855.
4Lambert, N. M., Graham, S. M., Fincham, F. D., & Stillman, T. F. (2009). A changed perspective: How gratitude can affect sense of coherence through positive reframing. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(6), 461–470.
5Brady, A. L. (2019). Examining the Association Between Gratitude and Sexual Communal Strength. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
6Brady, A., Baker, L. R., Muise, A., & Impett, E. A. (2021). Gratitude Increases the Motivation to Fulfill a Partner’s Sexual Needs. Social Psychological & Personality Science, 12(2), 273–281.
7Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389.
8Park, Y., Visserman, M. L., Sisson, N. M., Le, B. M., Stellar, J. E., & Impett, E. A. (2020). How can I thank you? Highlighting the benefactor’s responsiveness or costs when expressing gratitude. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
9Eyring, J. B., Leavitt, C. E., Allsop, D. B., & Clancy, T. J. (2021). Forgiveness and Gratitude: Links Between Couples’ Mindfulness and Sexual and Relational Satisfaction in New Cisgender Heterosexual Marriages. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 47(2), 147–161.
10Shapiro, S. L., Schwartz, G. E. R., & Santerre, C. (2002). Meditation and positive psychology. In C. R. Snyder & S. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 632– 645). London, UK: Oxford University Press.
How Practicing Gratitude Can Strengthen Relationships
As Thanksgiving approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude and how it impacts me and my relationships. Think for a minute about what it feels like when someone says to you, “Your smile made my day!” or “Thank you for checking in on me.”
Several studies confirm the benefits of being grateful:
- Grateful people are happier, healthier, have stronger relationships, and are more resilient in adversity.
- Gratitude leads to positive behaviors toward your spouse and others. The feeling of gratitude motivates responsiveness to a spouse’s needs. The perception of gratitude results in feelings of gratitude in the other spouse, creating a positive cycle over time.
- Gratitude is linked to higher subjective well-being across the lifespan.
- Everyday gratitude acts as a kind of “booster shot” for romantic relationships, leading to greater connection and satisfaction.
There’s something about not being taken for granted and feeling valued that makes people feel better. Gratitude warms your heart and can lift both the giver and the receiver out of despair.
Gratitude impacts how we relate to others and how we feel about our circumstances. What you choose to focus on is where your focus remains. Concentrating on the negative when things are hard can overwhelm you, and it teaches your brain to hone in on the worst. The alternative is to choose gratitude and find things you can appreciate during all the hard stuff going on in your life.
I once received an unexpected package in the mail. It was a bubble machine from a friend that included a note saying how much she appreciated our friendship. She encouraged me to put that bubble machine to good use in our neighborhood to lift people’s spirits. Trust me when I tell you, that bubble machine brought a lot of joy and laughter to people young and old.
Practicing gratitude doesn’t have to be complicated, time-consuming, or expensive. It’s an intentional effort though to acknowledge what we are thankful for and a willingness to receive gratitude from others.
Now that you know practicing gratitude strengthens your relationships, you may be looking for ways to incorporate thankfulness into your life on the regular. If so, you’ll be glad to know there are lots of ways you can show people how thankful you are.
Here are five ways to practice gratitude that will strengthen your relationships:
- Tell someone how much you appreciate ______________. Thankfulness says, “You matter.”
- Write thank you notes to people you are close to, including your children, spouse, parents and friends who wouldn’t necessarily expect anything.
- Write a letter thanking someone who has deeply impacted your life. Tell them you appreciate the ways they have encouraged and supported you.
- Be intentional about expressing appreciation out loud. Sometimes we think about how grateful we are on the inside, but we forget to verbally say it to the person. It can be something as simple as telling your neighbor (instead of just thinking it) how much you enjoy all the flowers blooming in their yard or telling a family member how much you appreciate them checking in on you.
- Keep a gratitude journal focusing on what you are thankful for in different relationships in your life. This is especially great for those times when you are struggling and need a good reminder of all you can be thankful for.
Practicing gratitude isn’t always easy, and it may even seem hard to be thankful right now, but our relationships will be much stronger and happier when we express our thankfulness to the people in our lives.
Photo by Nicholas Bartos on Unsplash
What to Do When Everything Feels Hopeless
I wish I could just give you hope. I can tell you where I’ve found mine, but you have to find your own. Now, I know you realize that and I’m sure you’ve looked for it and the pain multiplies when you look for it and come up empty. Nobody wants to feel hopeless. But when everything feels hopeless, hope is closer than you may think. Way closer. I know because I have gone from hopeless to hopeful and I understand that it’s an ongoing battle. But the battle is between my ears.
It’s a battle to control how I think.
I always pay attention to what disappoints or frustrates people and what makes them angry or sad. It reveals where they were placing their hope. You get disappointed, sad, or mad if your best friend doesn’t return any of your texts because you were hoping you meant more to them. You hoped you were best friends. And you invested some hope in that relationship. Now, you have a little less hope. You’ve become a little more hope-less.
Maybe you never framed it like that before.
There’s plenty going on in the world at the moment that can be disappointing, infuriating, or saddening. Makes it easy to feel hopeless. I was gonna list a bunch of things, but you live on the same planet. I’ll just share this, my adult son the other night looked straight at me and said, “Dad, it feels like the end of the world.” He was totally serious.
There could be plenty going on in your personal world that is keeping you from being hopeful. Your marriage or love life, parenting, your friends, and job situation. And let’s not leave out your worries about your physical health or finances.
1. Recognize where you are placing your hopes.
It’s been helpful for me to recognize where I’m placing my hopes and be careful about it. I don’t place my hope in things I can’t control.
I don’t place my hope in my wife, my kids, my friends, or my family. That might sound strange. Don’t get me wrong. I love my wife, my kids, and my friends and family. They bring joy and meaning to my life. But I can’t put all my hope in them. Beyond it not being fair to put all my hope on them, something could happen tomorrow that changes everything. I can’t control them, but I can control myself. I can influence those relationships with my choices—I can use my best relationship skills so there will be a better chance of those areas of my life being healthy and bringing me fulfillment and true meaningful joy. But relationships involve two people, and I can only control one of them—me.
Now think pandemics, the Stock Market, tornados, some rando that drinks and drives, social unrest across the country, global politics—I don’t have any real influence with this stuff. Totally out of my control. Not getting any of my hopes up. So, they can’t take away any of my hope and make me hope-less.
2. Ask before you hope: Is this something I can control, influence, or is it totally out of my control?
Psychologists have some useful terms here: External Locus of Control (ELC) vs. an Internal Locus of Control (ILC). People with a strong internal locus of control believe their choices matter and affect their quality of life. People with a strong external locus of control believe that other people, their environment, or their situation are what accounts for their success or failure and ultimately—their happiness. You didn’t get that promotion you wanted. ILC people think about if they were qualified for it or that maybe they should have worked harder; ELC people blame management and their co-workers who kept them from getting that promotion. ILC people focus on what they can control—themselves. ELC focus on what’s out of their control—everything BUT themselves.
You want to place your hopes in what you can control. That really just leaves YOU.
3. Expectations are everything.
Weird question: have you ever picked up a drink that you thought was water, but it turned out to be Sprite or something? You know that little jolt you felt with the first sip? You know what that’s about? Expectations. Expectations are everything in life. Sometimes feeling hopeless is a sign that our expectations were way off in the first place.
We may have gotten our hopes up or put them in the wrong place.
I’m a huge movie lover. My town used to have a regular movie theater and a $1 theater. If I took my wife on a date to the regular movie theater, that’s $30 just for tickets. Add in drinks, snacks, and paying the babysitter and you have an expensive night out. One day, I recognized I expected more from those movies than the movies I saw at the $1 theater. I was more critical when I was more invested and had high expectations. I was way more likely to be disappointed by a movie at the regular theater than a movie at the $1 theater. It seemed that no matter what, a movie at the $1 theater was at least “okay” and I had a good time.
I had less invested at the $1 theater, so my expectations were lower and I was rarely disappointed. When I was spending close to $100 to see a movie with my wife at the regular theater, I had higher expectations, because I was literally more invested in the experience, and was “let down” by a lot of the movies I saw there. ✭There were even times I saw a movie at the regular theater and didn’t think it was all that great BUT I saw the same movie again a month later at the $1 theater (why not?) and enjoyed it so much more. I was less invested in it so I adjusted my expectations. I didn’t feel let down and I had a good time. But, it was the same movie. What changed? I did. ✭
Hope works in a similar way. Keep those expectations in check. Watch where you invest.
4. Train Your Brain.
Just like athletes rely on training, practice, and muscle memory to be successful in their sport, you have to train your brain and put in the practice and develop “thinking memory” or good thinking habits. This will help you be successful in the game of life. We have to be careful with what we look for in life because our brains will find it and give us the feelings that go with it. If you’ve trained your brain to look for what’s wrong or negative about everything—your brain will find it and give you the feelings that go with it. If you train your brain to look for what’s right, what’s positive about everything—your brain will find that, too, and deliver all the feelings that go with it.
✦ Some people complain that roses have thorns.
✦ Some people are thankful that thorns have roses.
So, how do you train your brain to see what’s going right with you and your life?
How do you cultivate healthy thinking habits? Start in one place, looking for one thing and then check out the feelings that come with it. Start with you and your life. Take a couple of deep breaths. Let yourself be calm and quiet and undistracted. Now think of five things you have that you should be grateful for and why.
I’ll get you started—you’re alive! Not everybody can say that. That should feel good. Now you keep going. What should you be thankful for? What are big and little tiny things you should be grateful for? They are there! Train your thoughts to look for them every day.
Keep a Gratitude Journal and spend more time there than on social media or watching the news.
I told you hope was nearby. Hope is closer than you think. Hope is how you think.
✦ National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 988 or 1-800-273-8255
We’ve all been there. We watch parents cave to a child’s demands and think, “I would never let that happen with my child. I have no intention of raising an entitled kid.” But right now, we live in a “me” generation.
How many times have I been “that” parent, who after a long day, just wants to get home? Even after being so proud of myself for saying no, I eventually give because I just want it to be over. I beat myself up a bit and tell myself I’ll do better next time.
Honestly, most parents don’t set out to raise self-centered children. However, as we try to give our kids what we didn’t have or to ensure their success, we spend an inordinate amount of time, energy and brainpower focused on them. Unfortunately, this leads our kids to believe they are and should be the center of attention everywhere.
In my head, I know this is not a good thing. My professional training shows me this is not conducive to good outcomes for young adults. And research tells me this kind of parenting is not ultimately helpful to my child or any other child. BUT, how do we as parents put the brakes on and change our ways? And why would we want to stop doing things that we believe will ultimately make our children successful adults?
It’s helpful to begin with the end in mind. I don’t know about you, but outside of extenuating circumstances, I am not interested in having my child dependent on her parents for the rest of her life. I want to see her spread her wings and realize all she can do without our direct assistance.
What does it take to raise a child in a “me” generation?
- Avoid leading your child to believe he/she is the center of your universe. In real life, your child will not always be the center of attention. Avoid putting this belief in his head – don’t make him the focal point in your home.
- Teach your child what it means to be accountable and responsible for his/her own behavior. While this one can be painful, it is super-powerful and important. Instead of saving the day when your child encounters a difficult person or a problem, allow your child to problem-solve, figure something out and actually deal with it. This will help build self-confidence. When parents take responsibility for a child’s behavior and removes the consequences (good or bad), kids miss opportunities to learn and grow.
- Help them understand that just because you want something badly doesn’t mean you automatically get it. People tend to be less appreciative when they get things without earning them. Teach your children that anything worth having is worth working for. It’s a lesson that will serve them well throughout their life. Also, avoid the trap of believing it’s about the stuff.
- Teach them the importance of giving. Whether helping with chores (without getting paid) or serving in the community, teach children how to be givers. Giving can help guard against a sense of entitlement.
In an interview about hiring practices, Schwab CEO Walt Bettinger, shared that he intentionally takes interviewees out for a meal. He always arrives early and requests that the wait staff intentionally mess up the person’s order. Why? Because he wants to see how they will handle the situation. Through the years he has learned that a person’s heart and their character matter as much – if not more than – what’s in their head.
Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!