An easy way we can strengthen our existing relationships is to practice gratitude and appreciation.
Sometimes when we’ve known a person for years, it can be easy to take them for granted or to focus on the things they do that annoy us most. Stop and think about why you became friends with this person in the first place, or focus on a time when you really enjoyed their company and felt lucky to have them in your life. Perhaps they supported you through a difficult time, surprised you with a great day out, or were just there to laugh with when you needed cheering up.
Gratitude can apply to all aspects of our lives.
You can be grateful not only for the kindness of your lover, but for your health, your safety, the features you like the most about yourself, the things that have gone well in your life. Take it further, into mindfulness and a loving, curious way of looking at things, and you can be grateful for a sunset, the song of a bird, for a beautiful landscape, or for the miracle of life.
Research has shown that people who are more grateful generally experience more frequent positive emotions and are less likely to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious or neurotic (McCullough, Emmons & Tsang, 2002). To show that gratitude could actively affect wellbeing, Emmons and McCullough (2003) asked their participants to write down five things they were grateful for once a week for ten weeks. Compared to the control group, who were asked to simply write about major events or hassles from their week, those who had expressed gratitude became more optimistic, satisfied with their lives and even reported fewer physical symptoms.
The Power of Gratitude
Gratitude is a way of focusing on the more positive aspects of a situation instead of dwelling on the negative. For example, it can boost your self-esteem when you focus on everything that you like about yourself; everything you have accomplished in your life so far; all the people who have helped you get there/ shared the journey with you.
Adler and Fagley (2005) argue that feeling appreciative not only makes people happier and more satisfied with their lives, but nurtures feelings of connection to what we have, to what we experience and to life itself. They studied several types of appreciation, for example appreciation towards what we have, feelings of awe, focusing on the present moment, appreciation towards other people etc., and believed that showing appreciation towards others could help to build social bonds.
Gratitude is a way to strengthen a relationshipIRL Things
Try this; if you’re feeling annoyed with a loved one, try to focus on their best attributes of this person, the things they have done that you appreciate the most, and write them down. If there’s a person who has particularly helped you in your life, you could even write a letter to them expressing how grateful you are for their help. Seligman et al. (2005) asked participants to write and hand-deliver a gratitude letter to somebody who had helped them but who they had never properly thanked; those who did experienced great increases in their happiness levels, which lasted for up to a month after the experiment. Of course, you don’t have to deliver the letter – even just writing it can help remind you of the positive things and people in your life.
- Once a week, stop and think about three things you’re grateful for. They can be people, things people have done, or gratitude for the existence of a flower, a type of food, an aspect of your health etc.
- Really stop and think about each one, allowing yourself to feel humble, loved, full of awe, or whatever other emotions arise within you.
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- Adler, M. G., & Fagley, N. S. (2005). Appreciation: Individual Differences in Finding Value and Meaning as a Unique Predictor of Subjective Well‐Being.Journal of personality, 73(1), 79-114.
- Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(2), 377.
- Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. American psychologist, 60(5), 410.