One of the most powerful healing techniques in existence is expressing our gratitude.
Expressing gratitude benefits both you and the person being thanked, according to a recent study.
If you’re experiencing unhappiness or dissatisfaction with someone in your life, a friend, family member, partner or spouse, a simple and frequent expression of gratitude, saying “thank you” may improve your attitude about your relationship, according to research published in Psychological Science.
Gratitude is good for the giver and receiver. It helps by allowing the individual expressing thanks to engage in greater responsibility for the other person’s welfare.
Earlier gratitude research determined that expressions of thanks aided relationships by strengthening them and increasing satisfaction with it. This research evaluated the affect expressed gratitude had on what is known as “communal strength” — the degree of responsibility one partner or friend feels for another.
Nathaniel Lambert, a research associate at Florida State University stated in an interview, the finding makes sense because “when you express gratitude to someone, you are focusing on the good things that person has done for you,” he said. “It makes you see them in a more positive light and helps you to focus in on their good traits.”
Lambert and fellow researchers examined the notion that expressing gratitude helps strengthen relationships in this way by conducting three different studies. The first group completed surveys disclosing how often they expressed gratitude to a partner or friend. There 137 college students that completed the survey. The findings determined that gratitude is positively linked with the person’s perception of this “communal” strength.
The second study involved 218 college students, expressing gratitude predicted boosts in the person’s perception of the relationship’s strength over time. In a third study group, 75 men and women were randomly assigned to one of four groups. Over a three-week period, one group expressed gratitude to a friend; another thought grateful thoughts about a friend, while a third thought about daily activities and a fourth had positive interactions with a friend.
The participants expressing gratitude reported more relationship strength at the study’s end than did those in the other groups.
“The person doing the thanking comes to perceive the relationship as more communal, to see the person more worthwhile to sacrifice for, to go the extra mile to help out,” Lambert said.
Although the studies only looked at the people expressing gratitude, Lambert speculated that “those who are being thanked will often feel an urge to reciprocate. They will want to express their gratitude back. It can become kind of an upward spiral.”
A simple “thank you” can be a healing balm for a relationship that’s turning sour needs, he said. “In relationships today, often people get mired down into what the person isn’t doing for them. That’s one of the neat things about gratitude. It potentially can change the trajectory from a negative focus to more of a positive outlook on the relationship.”
This study is “an important extension of previous research,” said Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California Davis, a long-time gratitude researcher and author of Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.
The researchers have documented an “easy and often overlooked way to strengthen relationships,” he said. “Gratitude does knit together relationships and bind people into networks of reciprocal obligations.
“Even if one does not feel it, research strongly demonstrates that going through the motions can lead to the emotion.