Research shows that expressing gratitude is good for your mental health. It increases happiness and decreases depression. It also enhances empathy and reduces aggression. It promotes social interactions and fosters new relationships. Gratitude counteracts other toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, victimization and cynicism. It not only reduces stress, but research indicates that it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. All good things, but one more psychological benefit of expressing gratitude is that it undermines the “critical inner voice” and helps to weaken it’s influence on you. And finally, gratitude helps cultivate love.
Gratitude interrupts your critical inner voice
The critical inner voice has a mission: to keep your defenses intact. However, these defenses that once served a purpose in childhood are no longer necessary in your adult life. In fact, they are now limiting you and inhibiting your ability to have close relationships.
Your critical inner voice warns you that you are in danger of being hurt and need to protect yourself. It discourages you from being vulnerable and trusting other people. In intimate relationships, it advises you that that you are being taken advantage of and victimized by your partner. It undermines you with thoughts like:
- She never considers what you like.
- When was the last time he got you a gift?
- You give much more than you receive.
- All she’s interested in is your money.
- Don’t believe for one minute that he cares about your feelings.
- You’re the one who always calls.
But when you focus on what you are thankful for, you start to become mindful of all that you are being given. As you shift away from negative thinking and toward being appreciative, your critical inner voice loses strength. Actively acknowledging gratitude interrupts the destructive ways the critical inner voice is coaching you.
Gratitude helps cultivate love
Being thankful for what you are being given encourages love between two people. In Daring to Love, “the act of loving” describes how to acknowledge, express and respond with gratitude.
There are three simple steps that make up the act of loving:
- Acknowledging and accepting your partner’s loving actions
- Being grateful and expressing your gratitude
- Giving back with actions of your own
As we develop the ability to accept love with dignity and return love with appreciation, we find ourselves actively involved in being in love rather than falling into a passive state of fantasizing about being in love.
Acknowledging and accepting your partner’s loving actions
The first step is to recognize and accept the loving actions coming from your partner. This is much more difficult than it sounds because most of us lack full awareness of what is given to us. We tend to see our partner in terms of what we want from him or her or what we should be getting from him or her.
To gain perspective, step back from your partner. As you stand apart, get a feeling for yourself as a separate, independent person, perfectly capable of functioning on your own. The world doesn’t owe you anything; and, in spite of life’s disappointments and frustrations, you are a victim of no one. You are just you, alone. Now take a look at your partner, apart from you. Separate from anything you may expect, want, or demand from your partner. Separate from any role your partner may be fulfilling in relation to you. Like you, your partner is a person, alone.
Once you are able to experience yourself and your partner from this vantage point—seeing the two of you as two discrete individuals— look at what your partner is giving you. Don’t look for grandiose gestures of love and devotion. Don’t look for what you think your partner ought to be doing for you. Look for real, everyday acts of thoughtfulness, sensitivity, and kindness. Look for unique acts of giving that are an expression of your partner’s nature and sensitivity to your nature. Partners hurt each other by overlooking simple acts of love. However, when you acknowledge your partner’s acts of love, you accept the love your partner is offering to you.
Being grateful and expressing your gratitude
Once you have acknowledged and accepted what your partner is giving you, the next step is to be grateful and express your gratitude to your partner. But don’t rely on the occasional extravagant or effusive expression of gratitude. Instead, express your gratitude to your partner whenever you experience tender feelings of thankfulness because he or she has extended kindness, sensitivity, or generosity to you.
Giving back with actions of your own
Once you have acknowledged, accepted, felt gratitude, and expressed your gratitude for what your partner is giving you, the final step is to give back to your partner. But giving back to your partner is about being attuned to your partner as a person, separate from you and your relationship.
Giving back to your partner involves, first of all, your awareness that you are two different people with your own individual traits, interests, and desires, and it’s this awareness that attunes you to what your partner personally wants and needs. Therefore, the final step is the act of responding to your partner’s personal needs with actions that are highly sensitive. Because this personal level of giving is such a profound expression of yourself, the more wholeheartedly you give back to your partner, the more fully you realize who you are. Expressing your love in this manner enriches both your lives.
Expressing gratitude will enhance your life, improve your relationships and increase your overall sense of wellbeing. Giving thanks is a healthy habit that is worth practicing everyday, not just on the last Thursday in November.
Sections adapted from:
Tamsen Firestone with Robert Firestone, Ph.D.
New Harbinger Publications, 2018