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  • Ok, I have a confession to make: I don't feel grateful every time someone does something for me.

  • I mean, I'm actually a really grateful person, and I know not everybody is--

  • maybe many people in this room are-- but sometimes I feel a little burdened.

  • Sometimes I actually feel misunderstood, like "Why do they think I would want that?"

  • Sometimes, I don't even notice the thing that the person did for me, because I'm just really used to them doing it for me.

  • Every once in a while, though, I feel grateful.

  • For example, like the other day, when my romantic partner went for a run with me at 9:30 at night, just to keep me company.

  • So, aside from the personal benefits that I got from the run.

  • It was a really important type of moment for me, this gratitude, because it showed me that he understood me, and he cared.

  • He knows how much mental health benefit I get from my runs,

  • And he could tell that it was the end of a long day and I was waffling.

  • I was thinking about sacrificing my run to hang out with him, because I really wanted to hang out with him, too.

  • And so, he just looked at me and he said "I'm coming with you and we're leaving in three minutes."

  • What an awesome dude! And I totally needed that run.

  • So, what my research has shown over the past several years now, is that moments like these, between people--

  • these moments when we actually feel grateful, are important in one way,

  • and it's because they remind us of just how great specific other people are for us in our lives.

  • So, running isn't for everyone, and my guy isn't for everyone (thank goodness!),

  • but he's totally great for me, and so this is just one way.

  • So, what we've discovered in our work, is that what we know about emotions,

  • and this is the magic of emotions-- when we have an experience of gratitude, when that happens,

  • it does more than just remind us about our partner's good qualities,

  • but an emotional response provides fuel. In that moment, it coordinates our mind and body and behavior to solve a problem

  • or take advantage of a situation that is right in front of us,

  • and so what we've discovered over the past several years of studying gratitude and relationships,

  • is that gratitude motivates us and it helps us to make gestures that bind us more closely with our romantic partner,

  • and actually with other social partners in our lives.

  • So, in this moment with my partner where we had this really great experience, I felt gratitude,

  • I told him all about it-- how awesome it was and how much I appreciated him, and he felt valued.

  • My research suggests that that makes him feel more connected and interested in being in a relationship.

  • This opportunity sets up the stage for our next interaction and so forth, as we move through time.

  • And so, what's really been interesting in this line of research is that when I started,

  • I actually had some data on people in friendships,

  • and we've started moving into romantic relationships and people would say things like

  • "I don't understand. Why are you studying gratitude in romantic relationships and binding in romantic relationships? Aren't people in romantic relationships already bound together?"

  • Really? Well, that's a good myth and it's gorgeous, but this myth of true love that we get and it never fades,

  • but the data from relationship science shows

  • that over time, even for couples who stay together for decades, relationship satisfaction actually declines,

  • especially over the first couple of years.

  • And so, this is totally consistent with what we know about the principles of adaptation.

  • Think about getting a new car, whatever your flavor. Ok, a new car is shiny and awesome, just like a new relationship,

  • but over time, the car starts to lose that great new car smell,

  • and it starts to become the thing that we use to get from point A to point B.

  • Maybe over time, we start to look around at the other cars that are out on the street,

  • and think about upgrading to a new model.

  • So, unfortunately for cars, they can't just renew their new car smell with one simple gesture, but humans can.

  • Other live interaction partners can do little things, and we're reminded of the little things about them that we loved when we first met them.

  • And so, let me show you some data that are relevant to adaptation.

  • This is a study of couples in romantic relationships.

  • Every single day for fourteen days we had each member of the couple-- one of the questions that we had them report on was

  • "How connected they felt with their partner that day?" And you can see here across 1700 reports,

  • we have a very satisfied sample of couples. The scale goes from one to five--

  • I hope you can see that they're well above a four on the scale. On average, across all of the days.

  • But what we know about the ebb and flow of everyday life is that it's a little more complicated than that.

  • Alright, I've graphed the same data a different way,

  • and what you can see here is that every single line is a different individual participant in the study,

  • and the x-axis that runs across the bottom is every single day (all fourteen days) of the study.

  • You don't have to be a scientist to be able to see that people go up and down in their feelings about their partner from one day to the next,

  • even in this really satisfied sample!

  • So, I'm sure you can identify with this in your own relationships,

  • your romantic relationships as well as your friendships. Even if they're amazing, not every day is amazing.

  • So, this is where gratitude comes in.

  • What we found in this study is that on days when one person in the study, one of the couple members,

  • said "Hey, I felt a little more gratitude after interacting with my partner today,"

  • their partner reported independently feeling better about this relationship than they had the day before.

  • So, we concluded from this study that even everyday gratitude can act as a 'booster shot' for romantic relationships.

  • Now, what I've been studying in the past couple of years is "How does that happen?"

  • It's kind of a fascinating research question for an emotions researcher,

  • who typically, emotions researchers, we study one person's own experience of their own emotion.

  • This one jumps the gap between people to actually influence the thoughts and feelings of the other person on a pretty regular basis;

  • that's a pretty robust effect that we found.

  • So, thanks for the generous funding from the John Templeton Foundation and the Greater Good Science Center,

  • I've actually been working for a couple of years now, trying to figure out how this might work,

  • and we've been using expressions of gratitude between romantic partners to test a few different effects.

  • Here you can see. This is about a third of my team on this research project over the past couple of years as well as my co-investigators.

  • One of the questions that we're testing is "What makes an expression of gratitude so impactful?"

  • So, we're hoping that if we can start to figure out the mechanisms,

  • then we can actually start to bring gratitude into people's everyday lives a little bit more gracefully,

  • and then we're testing the extent of the effects on each member of the dyad.

  • So, what does the person do when they hear an expression of gratitude?

  • How does it make them change their own behavior (your original benefactor),

  • what are the downstream consequences for both people, including physiological effects,

  • like oxytocin and changes in blood pressure? So, as of about two hours ago, our 245th couple walked through the doors of my lab for this study--

  • that's almost 500 people who have expressed gratitude to their partner, given us saliva samples, given us urine samples,

  • and basically provided about a metric ton of additional data.

  • Um, I'm really excited--

  • we're wrapping up data collection in a couple of months, and we'll be doing analysis,

  • and I'm really looking forward to being able to tell you a lot about what makes gratitude expressions so impactful,

  • and what are the possible downstream consequences.

  • But in the meantime, what I've told you is that I have spent many, many, many years studying,

  • very closely studying the dynamics of everyday interactions of people who care about each other a lot.

  • Specifically, however (and this is relevant to the last set of talks),

  • I've been studying people who are in happy relationships, who are in good relationships.

  • So what we've learned, we've learned a lot about how gratitude naturally works, but I'm not a therapist.

  • We have not studied gratitude in distressed relationships, we have not studied gratitude in relationships where one person is abused.

  • To my knowledge, nobody has. Those data don't exist, so please,

  • people, go out and do that research. Until we have data to speak to people who have rocky relationships,

  • I would strongly suggest: don't necessarily take my 'do it yourself' advice about relationships,

  • that's a different set of concerns, but don't tune me out,

  • because what I'm about to tell you about what we know from good romantic relationships probably also applies to your other good relationships as well.

  • Now, if you want to get more out of gratitude in your everyday life, and this is--

  • these are things that I would tell my friends that the evidence says most strongly--

  • if you want to get more gratitude in your life, you want to start by having more gratitude.

  • Now, it's a little finicky. In our previous studies, again, we didn't get the partner to go and do amazing things for their partner.

  • We didn't get them to give foot rubs and send roses or anything like that.

  • What I showed you were data about gratitude for the everyday little things.

  • Now, if you think about your romantic relationships, or even your best friendships,

  • you fell in love for a reason

  • with this person and if you're sharing life together in some capacity,

  • then they're certainly doing lots of things for you already.

  • But we know, from the psychology, that stress actually is a barrier to looking past ourselves.

  • So, our lives are busy and stressful and sometimes, we also get into habits with people. Sometimes, we start to take people for granted.

  • So, the very first thing that I would say is get out of your head, and start to just remember the things that your partner does for you.

  • Now, I'm not promising that you'll actually feel grateful for it,

  • but it increases the likelihood. If you notice it, it increases the likelihood that you will actually feel gratitude.

  • And then, all of our research suggests-- my research as well as I am summarizing from across the field--

  • suggests that people who feel grateful want to make sure that the person knows how great they are,

  • so it naturally moves us to demonstrate this. The data support this as well,

  • so we have people who feel gratitude and express it, are more committed to their relationships,

  • they feel better about them, even better than people who feel gratitude and don't express it.

  • So, for the person who feels it,

  • it might help your relationship to express it, but also, for the person-- this is the natural bridge-- for the person, who actually did the kind thing, for your romantic partner,

  • tell them! Let them know that they're appreciated.

  • We have data from a different study where we asked couples every day to report every single day for fourteen days,

  • and again we found when people said that their partner thanked them that day for something they did,

  • they said they felt better about the relationship even than they had the day before.

  • So here, I would again, you have barriers in your everyday life to expressing gratitude.

  • You might feel distracted by work or kids.

  • People in long term relationships may actually think that their partner actually just knows how they feel, do they?

  • People who are in new relationships may feel vulnerable telling the person how much it meant to them, that they did this kind action,

  • but our data show that you have very little to lose

  • and a lot to gain by following a really simple rule:

  • If you really feel it, just don't forget to show it.

  • Here's my last point, that's very important in all of this: be genuine. And this is kind of should be obvious,

  • but in people's rush to kind of apply to practice, it may not be.

  • Your partner knows you pretty well, and they were there when they did the thing for you.

  • So, if they I don't know, try to make you an amazing dinner but botched it,

  • you don't have to tell them that they're an amazing chef, but do genuinely tell them what you appreciate about them, about their actions.

  • So maybe, you liked that they remembered what your favorite dish was,

  • and that they went out of their way to make your night special. Whatever's true for you,

  • and I know this from a study where we brought couples into the lab and we had them,

  • in front of our video cameras. They said thanks to their partners for things--

  • what we found was no matter how big or small the gesture, the leading indicator of how satisfied the partner was with the relationships six months later,

  • was how much the grateful person made them feel understood, valued, and cared for in the actions that they took for the grateful person--

  • on the grateful person's behalf. So, what I would say to you is 'just be true.'

  • Look at your partner in the eye, and just tell her exactly what it was that you appreciated about her actions.

  • So I hope that I've started to demonstrate that gratitude between two people in everyday life is a bit finicky and that's ok,

  • because gratitude actually runs on the wavelength of being a genuine signal of care and concern between the two people.

  • So, I wouldn't force it. However, our relationship partners are people who can look out for our best interests,

  • help us accomplish our goals, and help to support us when things aren't going well.

  • More than just helping us to get through our everyday lives, our romantic partners can help us thrive.

  • So, it makes sense to consider noticing what they do, for you.

  • When you feel it, don't forget to show it and say it like you mean it.

  • Thank you.

Ok, I have a confession to make: I don't feel grateful every time someone does something for