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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.
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How Does Gratitude Affect Romantic Relationships?

24019 Folder Collection
Eating published on January 14, 2015    Paris Tsai translated    Eating reviewed
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