An attitude of gratitude continues to emerge as a surprisingly strong predictor and contributor to marital happiness, even if the ‘thank you’ isn’t said.
Gratitude is so powerful that participants report achieving higher levels of contentment in their marriage when they felt it, even if they did not express it.
That could be due to gratitude’s power to increase important neurochemicals, with a flow-on effect to behaviour. When thinking shifts from negative to positive, there is a surging of feel-good chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. These all contribute to the feelings of closeness, connection and happiness that come with gratitude.
“Author Alexandra-Maria Sigala’s survey of 123 married couples suggested that, for both spouses, gratitude ‘is much more relevant than mindfulness to marital satisfaction’.”
One recent Harvard University study focused on the role of mindfulness and gratitude in the impressive resilience of marriages in Greece, which has one of the world’s lowest divorce rates.
Author Alexandra-Maria Sigala’s survey of 123 married couples suggested that, for both spouses, gratitude “is much more relevant than mindfulness to marital satisfaction”.
“Two dimensions of spouse-related gratitude, Felt Gratitude and Received Gratitude, were found to predict both own and spouse’s marital satisfaction,” Sigala wrote. “Given that grateful individuals not only appreciate the role others play in their wellbeing but also are motivated by gratitude to make others happy, it becomes clear how gratitude is particularly relevant to marriage.
“Surprisingly, but in full accordance with similar studies, the third dimension of spouse-related gratitude, Expressed Gratitude, was not associated with the spouse’s marital happiness. It is, therefore argued that having an inward experience of gratitude is more relevant to one’s spouse’s happiness than actually expressing gratitude outwardly.”
Cameron Gordon, lead author of a University of North Carolina study on the connection between gratitude and a happy marriage, said “that the goodwill generated by grateful spouses creates a ‘reciprocal feedback loop’ of marital harmony, helping spouses to view their interactions even on bad days in a positive light.”
The participants in that study, 50 couples married for an average of 21 years, reported high relationship satisfaction after feeling gratitude towards their spouse, whether they had expressed it or not.
“Couples found that gratitude, ‘may help to turn ordinary moments into opportunities for relationship growth, even in the context of already close, communal relations’.”
Gordon said that this showed that gratitude can go hand in hand with marital satisfaction, and that “the more appreciative you are, the happier you’ll be”.
Another similar study in which couples recorded their daily interactions and feelings about their relationship over a two-week period found that gratitude, “may help to turn ordinary moments into opportunities for relationship growth, even in the context of already close, communal relations”.
Developing an attitude of gratitude generally enhances relationships with our family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. It is often linked to a longer, happier life as well.
But don’t forget to say thanks!
‘Thank you’, along with ‘please’ and ‘sorry’ are the three words Pope Francis has said he would love to see written on every family’s front door as a reminder of how to live well and peacefully both inside and outside the home.
Questions for Reflection:
Consider these questions for fostering an attitude of gratitude towards your spouse each day:
What chores does he (or she) do on a routine basis that I am happy not to have to do myself?
What was the nicest thing he (or she) has said or done recently?
What are two of his (or her) qualities for which I am most grateful?
“Developing an attitude of gratitude generally enhances relationships with our family, friends, neighbours and colleagues.”
Tips for an attitude of gratitude
Pray for a grateful heart: Ask God to point out for you the blessings in your life, to open your eyes to the gifts given to you each day that you might not have noticed before or have taken for granted.
Read a psalm of thanksgiving, such as Psalm 104, or the autobiographies of people who have triumphed over tragedy.
Keep a gratitude journal: In the evening jot down three things you were grateful for that day. Think about why that event happened, or how it came about. If there is something you can do to help make it happen again, make a plan to do so!
Consider those who are less fortunate: Find out about initiatives in your area which assist people in situations of disadvantage. Is there some way you could involve yourself in supporting them (praying, volunteering, writing a letter to the local MP or media outlet,) that you might not have thought of doing before?
An earlier version of this article was published at Cathfamily.org under the headline Gratitude: the heartbeat of love