With Thanksgiving around the corner, I thought it timely to have a post on the benefits of gratitude.
The decision to make gratitude a regular part of your routines and life, to deliberately focus on what exists in your marriage/relationship that you are (or can be) thankful for, is a profound gift you can give yourself and your spouse/partner. Practicing gratitude is a form of mental exercise that can strengthen positive moods, enhance your outlook on life, as well as strengthen your marriage/relationship.
The operative word is practice—it’s a mistake to remain idle and assume that when it comes to gratitude you’re simply a victim of circumstance.
The benefits of practicing gratitude are far-reaching.
Creating an Attitude of Gratitude: The Challenge of Making It Happen
For a moment think about all those times you exercised even when you didn’t feel like working out. Maybe you felt too tired or weak or stiff or simply not in the mood to run and jump and stretch and lift and contort—for whatever reason, you just didn’t want to put in the effort—yet, despite those self-imposed hurdles, you pushed through the lethargy and made it happen.
What was the result of pushing yourself to do something that was good for you?
I’m guessing that after the workout, you felt better about yourself—maybe you felt a sense of accomplishment, more content or peaceful, maybe you even felt a bit more able to face the challenges of the day.
Like your physical workout, you might have different reasons not to regularly exercise your gratitude mindset—legitimate complaints and hurdles that are making life and your marriage/relationship really tough. When stressed and hurting, when it feels like life (and your partner) is just being way too unfair, gratitude is probably the last thing on your mind.
But what if (despite how you might feel in a particular moment) you pushed yourself to start a gratitude exercise program—a regularly scheduled workout that challenged you to reflect on all the small (and seemingly insignificant and overlooked) ways in which you are blessed?
How do you imagine you would feel?
At this point I can try to convince you that, like physical exercise, practicing gratitude (even when you don’t feel like it) will result in numerous benefits. But the truth is, you’re going to have to experience it for yourself firsthand.
Gratitude has to be experienced to be fully appreciated—discussing it in the abstract doesn’t do it justice. Are you willing to push yourself a little and give it a try? If so, I have a few simple suggestions below to get you started.
Marriage/Relationship Help Action Step: Your Gratitude Workout
Like any type of exercise program, you should set realistic, reachable goals. And here’s the good news: when it comes to gratitude, a few minutes here and there can pay out significant emotional dividends.
Think of the different areas of your life and pick one you’d like to focus on: Physical health, emotional well-being, marriage/relationship, friends, career/job, home life, extended family, spirituality, etc.
From the category (or categories) you’ve chosen, think of one or two small things that currently exist in this area of your life that you appreciate (if you have difficulty with this, for a moment try imagining life without these things).
Write each item down, focusing on and describing why you’re glad they exist. Give as much detail as possible.
For each area and item in your life that you are focusing on, repeat the following phrase:
I’m so grateful that ________________ exists in my life.
I am so grateful to have ________________.
As you repeat these phrases (and others you can think of), focus your attention on your body and notice the sensations and feelings associated with gratitude. Don’t rush this process—simply be with the experience of gratitude at a feeling/sensing level. As you allow the feelings and sensations of gratitude to arise within you, you can now give thanks to these feelings themselves—in essence, you would be giving thanks for the feelings of gratitude that are arising.
Simply repeat the above steps. To increase the likelihood of follow-through on your gratitude workout, commit to the days and times you’ll engage in this activity. For instance, you might pick Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings (designating 10-15 minutes) or maybe even more days if you’re up for it. The important point here is follow-through; give this gratitude workout program enough time to make a difference in your life.
And if you want to use gratitude to help your marriage/relationship, remember to focus on the personality traits and things your partner does that you appreciate. To deepen emotional intimacy, you can share your feelings of gratitude and, if your partner is up for it, ask him/her to join you in keeping an ongoing gratitude workout program going.
Please note that if this exercise falls flat the first time (or couple of times) you try it, don’t fret. The more you work out your gratitude mindset, the better you’ll become at entering into the emotional space of gratitude.
With gratitude and appreciation for all my readers,
Dr. Rich Nicastro