Before we get into the correlation between gratitude and love that lasts, let me clarify a few things:
1. Gratitude is not just saying “thank you”.
2. There are three elements involved in gratitude – a giver, a gift, and a receiver. If someone is the receiver of a gift (whether it is expensive or inexpensive material), expressing gratitude to the giver should go beyond mere acknowledgment of the gift.
3. Gratitude takes you out of yourself and allows you to focus on the giver. It also enables you to be appreciative of the giver’s effort— the way they carefully considered what kind of gift suits you best or the thoughtful gestures that they with you in mind. Amie Gordon, a postdoctoral fellow from the Department of Psychiatry, University of California (UC), San Francisco, says that beyond what your partner gave or did, you also see his or her best qualities and understand why you entered this relationship in the first place.
4. Benedictine monk Br. David Steindl-Rast says that gratitude is gratis. It is freely given to you without expectations; therefore, you can also freely choose to express and give to someone else.
5. Robert Emmons, a leading expert on the science of gratitude, describes it as “an affirmation of goodness… we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves…We acknowledge that other people…gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”
Having said all that, let’s bear in mind that our capability for gratitude is a gift in itself that we must not take for granted. Dr. Gordon notes that in romantic relationships, the habitual or non-habitual expression of gratitude to one’s partner is a strong predictor of which couples will still be together -- and which couples will break up nine months down the road.
“The more grateful participants were, the more likely they were to still be in their relationship,” Dr. Gordon wrote in an article published in Greater Good, the online magazine of the Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley.
Why is gratitude so powerful in good relationships?
Dr. Gordon says it promotes a cycle of generosity. A wife expresses gratitude to her husband. In return, the husband responds in ways that convey gratitude to his wife. As this cycle prevails over time, it becomes a habit for both partners to continuously express their gratitude and appreciation to each other through deeds and gifts. Consequently, the couple’s commitment to their relationship is strengthened and continues to grow.
Gratitude and adaptation
Some people are afraid to express gratitude because they think it will make them vulnerable or indebted to their partner. Others are aware of some of the social nuances of gratitude as it is described in the realm of science that sees the virtue requiring constant vigilance when handling the other person's emotions. Still, others tend to take their partners for granted. How can a person overcome his or her fear of gratitude? How can we develop gratitude as a quality in ourselves? How can someone look at his or her romantic partner with new eyes of love, appreciation, and gratitude, every day rather than habituate to one’s partner and take him or her for granted?
Algoe notes that humans have a tendency to lose that romantic bond. You fall in love with a person who is fantastic, but somewhere down the line, the original spark in the relationship is likely to fade, and your eyes wander elsewhere. Or, even if you’ve been happily married for 20 years, your most emotionally exciting time was your first year of marriage. Algoe even compares it to buying a dream car. At first, it’s shiny, awesome, and has that great, new smell. Over time, it becomes just another transportation vehicle for the owner. We lose our enthusiasm for it. We become habituated. If we can afford it, we might get a different car next time.
Algoe cites a study she did of some 1,700 reports of couples in happy relationships. She noted that in a happiness range of one to five, with five being the highest score, the median average was four. At the same time, she observed that “the ebb and flow of everyday life is a little more complicated than that.” But when the couples talked about gratitude, she concluded, “everyday gratitude can act as a ‘booster shot’ for romantic relationships.”
How to get more gratitude in your life
Here are some ways that you can get more gratitude in your life:
1. You get it by giving it. Algoe says you can initiate the gratitude cycle in your relationship by expressing gratitude to your partner. Let your partner know how much you appreciate him or her, and show it even in small things, such as bringing home their favorite soda.
2. Give gifts you know your partner wants. It’s not how much it costs, but what it means to your partner. If he or she likes hoodies, get them one that you know they really wanted. The more you are cognizant of what your partner likes, the more meaningful the gift will be to them. He or she will see how thoughtful you are, and be more grateful for it.
3. Beat stress. Gratitude is about looking past yourself toward another person. Stress, however, tends to make us self-focused and neglectful of the people we love. Algoe suggests remembering the things your partner does for you that make you happy. It may not work immediately, but with practice, you will be able to feel grateful despite the stress.
4. Say it. Maybe you are afraid that if you tell your partner how much he or she means to you, it will leave you vulnerable. This especially happens in a new relationship. But according to Algoe, studies show you have very little to lose and a lot to gain by telling your partner what you really feel and by showing it.
5. Thank him/her for who he/she is. If your partner gives you a wonderful gift, don’t just thank them for the gift. Express appreciation over the fact that your partner knows you so well by giving you such a perfect gift. You can also note that he or she always gives you exactly what you want.
6. Focus on your partner. Show gratitude by taking your focus off of yourself and giving it to the giver. Note an act of kindness they do for you, let them know how wonderful they are, and make them feel appreciated.
7. Be real. If your partner tried to make you a fantastic dinner and botched it, don’t lie. Let them know that you really appreciated the effort. Algoe’s studies showed that having a grateful partner is a strong predictor that a couple will be together six months later. Gratitude makes your partner feel understood, valued, and cared for.