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  • Writer's pictureNichole Hart

Gratitude: Sharing Appreciation Matters

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: it makes what is excellent in

others belong to us as well.” Voltaire

I’d like to invite you to stop everything you’re doing for a few moments.

Take some deep breaths. Pay attention to your the sound of your breath coming in and going the feel of your breath coming into and leaving your body…to the temperature of your breath coming into your nose and leaving your nose.

Now, think about your partner, and, in particular, think about what you appreciate about your partner. Perhaps you will recall fun memories you share together, maybe aspects of his/her personality, or it could be something concrete they recently did for you. Just notice what comes to mind. Then, let yourself settle on one specific thing you appreciate.

By the way, you’ll notice in this post I refer a lot to “appreciation,” rather than gratitude. In doing a bit of research on the difference between appreciation and gratitude, I found this interesting post, and really liked how the author summarized the difference:

“Gratitude - a feeling of being grateful Appreciation - acting on my feeling of gratitude and showing someone I am grateful.”

Sharing appreciations with your partner is putting action to your feelings of gratitude!

Coming back to the specific appreciation you settled on. Allow yourself, for a few more breaths, to focus on appreciating this about your partner. Notice what happens inside of you. What do you notice emotionally? What do you notice physiologically? As you think about this appreciation, curl the corners of your lips into a smile, if they aren’t already there. What do you feel now? What do you notice within yourself?

In a moment, we’ll use the appreciation you came up with to go through a gratitude exercise that we in Imago recommend couples do regularly with one another. Then, I’ll include information from a research study to help you understand why it’s worth it to put action steps to your gratitude.

Before we get there, think about how appreciations or “thank you’s” usually go for you and your partner. I often hear that either couples aren’t great at sharing appreciations, or, when they do, appreciations may go something like this:

Partner 1 - “Thanks for bringing in the mail.” Partner 2 - “mmm-hmm.”

P1 - “Appreciate your help with the party.” P2 - “Sure, no problem.”

P1 - “Thanks so much for making my lunch this morning.” P2 - “Thank you for making dinner last night.”

What is happening?

The way we usually share appreciation lacks energy, focus, intention...and attention. Oftentimes, even when we do say, “Thank you,” it’s in the midst of the hustle and bustle we have going on, and it’s almost imperceptible - both to the giver and the receiver of the appreciation.

Unfortunately, it is virtually second nature for us to downplay or deflect compliments and appreciation. We do this both when we share appreciation and when we receive appreciation. If you have an extra few minutes, click over to this post. It will help you understand why we deflect compliments, the most common ways we do it, along with some tips for accepting compliments.

It’s time to get better at giving and receiving appreciation!

Bring back to mind the appreciation of your partner that you came up with earlier. Then complete the following sentences. Please take a few moments to write these sentences / your answers down. (I’ll share later why the writing down step is important.)

  • What I appreciate about ____________ is _____________.

  • Why this is meaningful for me is _____________________.

  • In focusing on this, I notice I feel _____________________ (this will be a a feeling like...happy, love/d, care, cared for, inspired, energized, content, joyful, pleasant, peaceful, etc)

  • Thank you for bringing this into my life.

Why establish a habit of sharing what you appreciate about one another?

A cursory search of, “Why is gratitude important?” will result in an abundance of research backed articles that show scientifically why an active gratitude practice is important. I focus here on one of those articles, bringing the connection into your relationship.

In 2013, The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley conducted a research study in which they looked at, “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain.” I recommend reading the entire article, and will summarize a few points of interest.

In the study, one group of participants was asked to write letters of gratitude, one letter, per week, per person for three weeks. Another group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences they’ve had in their life. Another group didn’t write any letters. All three groups attended counseling.

A fascinating outcome of the study showed “that people who used more positive emotion words and more “we” words in their gratitude letters didn’t necessarily have better mental health later. It was only when people used fewer negative emotion words in their letters that they were significantly more likely to report better mental health. In fact, it was the lack of negative emotion words—not the abundance of positive words—that explained the mental health gap between the gratitude writing group and the other writing group. (emphasis added)

What this means for you and your relationship:

It’s not only the intentional addition of more positive words into your relationship that will make a difference, but, alongside this, the intentional and sustained removal of negative ones.

Additionally, for the letter writing group, even when they didn’t send the letters, brain scans done 3 months after the study showed alterations in the brain. The alterations were seen in an area of the brain associated with learning and decision-making. A possible conclusion drawn was, “that people who are more grateful are also more attentive to how they express gratitude. … This indicates that simply expressing gratitude may have lasting effects on the brain.”

What this means for you and your relationship:

I imagine you’ve heard that, “What you focus on tends to become your reality.” This study helps us understand why that is. The study shows, from a physiological (ie., how your brain functions) level, what happens in your brain the more you practice gratitude, or sharing appreciations. When you take the action of expressing gratitude in an intentional way, you train your brain to look for gratitude and to be more receptive to it.

Lastly, the researchers also found that the positive benefits didn’t come about immediately, but rather accumulated and came about gradually, over time, with differences emerging between the groups at 4 weeks and growing even bigger by 12 weeks.

What this means for you and your relationship:

Expect change in yourself, your partner, and your relationship to gradually come about. Sharing appreciations in a new way is going to feel uncomfortable at first. Our nervous system is designed to respond cautiously to anything novel it encounters. It’s a perfectly natural and normal response. The more you practice sharing appreciations with one another, the more your nervous system will relax, and the bigger and bigger difference it will make as time passes.

I mentioned earlier that I’d come back to the “writing down” part. If the idea of sharing appreciations in this new way feels like too much at this time, since it will likely initially feel awkward, you can begin by simply writing the appreciation.

Use the steps I provided above, and, for now, don’t even worry about giving it to your partner.

Establishing the practice of writing down what you appreciate about your partner will make a positive difference all by itself.

As you feel comfortable, you can give the written appreciation to your partner, working your way to being able to talk together and share appreciations.

The positive differences in your relationship will be amplified as you share appreciations with one another.

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your

life is the foundation for all abundance.” Eckhart Tolle

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