It’s thankful season! Each year, we gather around and one-by-one share what we’re grateful for. We likely put more thought into what we appreciate on that one day than we do in the entire year leading up to it. We often say something like “I’m thankful for my partner and the life we’ve created,” and it stops there. Gratitude, though, isn’t just found in the big things – it’s in the small gestures, the little, every-day moments, and isn’t something we should reserve just for the month of November.
Big Living Arrangement Change, Little Arguments:
My partner and I moved in together relatively quickly for many valid reasons. Our blissful honeymoon phase, though, was abruptly interrupted with arguments about things like where the coffee pot should go. In reality, it wasn’t about the coffee pot at all. It was about how we stopped appreciating those little things about each other and started noticing the things that were irritating, frustrating, or difficult. Those things, then, became our primary focus – cue all the bickering.
For our first ever anniversary, we decided that we needed to make a shift. We challenged ourselves to write down one thing we were grateful for about each other on a sticky note and stick it in a jar…EVERY. SINGLE. DAY…for a whopping 90 days, and then at the end, we’d open them all together. Initially, it felt tedious. It felt like just one more thing on the to-do list. After a while, though, I looked forward to the notes, and noticed myself actually looking for things to appreciate about him – I would catch myself wondering what I was going to write for the day, considering each small (or big) thing he did that I valued. That Thanksgiving, I answered that “what are you thankful for?” question differently – I answered it with thoughtfulness and meaning rather than some general, broad answer. I remember days that I could think of so many small things that I couldn’t figure out which one to write on the note. For example, how he waited for me while skiing after that one steep slope that always freaks me out rather than zooming off like I know he wanted to, how he puts all my dinner items on separate plates because he knows how much I hate when my food touches, how he puts my favorite coffee mugs where I can reach them on our shelf in the kitchen. We don’t fall in love for one big reason. Similarly, relationships typically don’t end for one big reason. It’s all that small stuff that matters and shapes how we view each other. I’m not sure that we’d still be together if we didn’t make that change. Choosing what you focus on now directly shapes the fate of your relationship in the future.
Gratitude Is Good for Your Physical Well Being:
I still carry that lesson with me – I look for gratitude in every single moment, with my partner and in other aspects of my life. Gratitude is a way of being – it’s a total lifestyle. Because gratitude is a habit that you form over time, it can’t be done overnight. The effort is worth it, though. Other than completely transforming your relationship, it also improves our physical health, helps us sleep better, reduces stress hormones, and even changes the neural structure of our brain (1). We tend to lose what we don’t use, and strengthen what we do. Because of this, gratitude becomes a habitual, regular part of your life. When we yell the “F word” at the top of our lungs every time we make a silly mistake, we do it more, and more, and more…versus if we choose to laugh off the small human errors we make, we laugh them off more, and more, and more. If your partner makes a small mistake, do you feel yourself get heated immediately? Or do you laugh it off with them, connecting with them on a human level? Gratitude can offer us a sort of a detox from toxic or unpleasant emotions, and completely transform the way we interact with the world. Gratitude softens you – it makes you that safe spot for your partner to land, allows you to be that “welcome home” feeling for your partner, shifts your focus to that glass being half full, and offers you a free, natural, magical super vitamin to enhance your happiness on both good and bad days. Imagine a life where you naturally noticed all those amazing little moments with your partner. There is much more understanding and compassion in the world where gratitude exists.
Practice gratitude every day, every moment – not just on Thanksgiving.
Be on the lookout for Part 2 – signs you need to make gratitude a habit and how to do so. If you have any questions or would like to make a therapy appointment, please call Amy Wine Counseling Center at 832.421.8714.
Chowdhury, M. R. (2019, July 4). The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How It Affects Anxiety & Grief. Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude/.