Gratitude is one of the keys to greater happiness. Study after study shows that people who are thankful tend to feel more positive emotions and see improvements in their mental health. If you’re wondering how to make your relationships better, gratitude can help you there, too.
But first, what is gratitude, and why is it so important? Harvard Health defines the state of gratitude as, “A way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met.” In other words, an attitude of gratitude can help you focus on what you have instead of worrying about what you don’t have. Although forcing yourself to come up with things to be thankful for while ignoring all the negativity in your life may feel dishonest at first, the more you do this, the better you will become at genuinely seeing the positive. Gratitude is like a muscle—the more you practice, the stronger your mind becomes.
You can practice gratitude in a number of ways. For example, thinking about past blessings you’re grateful for is one quick way to flex your gratitude muscle. Once you are connected with feeling thankful for the past, you can examine your present. If it’s hard to think of something good, because you’re currently overwhelmed with all the bad things you see, you can always start by saying “thank you” for the things you normally take for granted—how nice your hot cup of coffee is, the good weather, having the eyes to read this. Once you’re able to spot the good things in your life, it becomes easier to see the ways in which people around you deserve to be thanked, and that’s the first step to building better relationships.
Research shows that gratitude improves relationships. One study of couples found that people who took the time to express gratitude for their partner ended up feeling more positive toward their significant other. Surprisingly, they also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship, which suggests that gratitude is also the key to better communication.
Although the evidence is overwhelming that we’d be happier in our partnerships and marriages if we thanked our significant others a little more often, we tend to neglect expressing gratitude in our most intimate relationships. It’s easy to forget what your husband or wife does for you, seeing little things like making dinner or taking out the trash as a given.
And we don’t just forget to say “thank you” in our romantic relationships: The workplace is often a breeding ground for resentment, where bosses bark orders without expressing gratitude for the people fulfilling those orders. Data suggests that managers who remember to thank the people who work for them find that those employees actually feel motivated to work harder.
Whether you practice at work or at home, gratitude is proven to make you happier and mentally healthier. Start to notice the things you’re thankful for, and don’t forget to express that gratitude to the people around you, so that your relationships can thrive. A little “thank you” can go a long way.