We’ve talked about the neuroscience of gratitude and its importance in our lives.
A healthy practice of gratitude is a way to acknowledge the good things in your life. It is also a way to bring more of those good things your way.
To authentically bring gratitude practices into your life it is critical that your partner is a part of that process. Follow these gratitude tips so that you can start to establish a habit of gratitude, together.
Dr. Emmons’ research identified 5 questions that we can ask ourselves to increase our feeling of gratitude:
Emmons tells us that the secret to maintaining an abiding sense of gratitude during uncertain times is to directly challenge negative thoughts and redirect them. Notice negative thoughts, question or challenge them, and finally reframe or re-direct those thoughts.
How does this work?
Imagine the intrusive thought; “My husband and I are constantly bickering, lockdown will never end, we will be miserable forever.“
Negative thoughts remind us of what is lacking, and often gloss over any potential positive. “Lockdown is hard, and I’m grateful for the fact that nobody in our family is sick, and we’re all in this together. My husband and I are managing a lot right now, I am proud of us.”
“If we can short-circuit anti-grateful thoughts, we have a good chance of taking control over our emotional lives and developing an emotional resilience that is immune to changing circumstances.”Robert Emmons
Couples are under siege by external stressors beyond their control. Finding gratitude is about pausing to notice external grace and this may be one of the most powerful gratitude tips in the list. Gratitude is a conscious action.
Gratitude in any form can expand awareness, lift the mind, and soothe our thoughts. The bottom line is that gratitude facilitates happiness(Russell and Fosha, 2008)
The gratitude tips follow us into our nighttime routine. Here is Dr. Emmon’s bedtime gratitude practice modified for couples. Do this every night with your partner for 2 weeks…
1. About a half-hour before going to bed, take 5 minutes to write down anything that you are grateful for that happened today.
2. Spend some time sharing each of these things with your partner, this allows you to really focus on each item. Then listen to their list.
3. Step 2 is critical! The more you focus your thoughts on fully remembering each experience the stronger this exercise will be. You will learn more about what your partner is grateful for in their life and end your day together on a positive note.
This simple daily practice may help improve your sleep, allowing you to arise feeling more rested and ready to face a new day.
“It may sound simplistic, but the evidence cannot be ignored: if you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep.”Robert Emmons
Handwritten cards and thank you notes were far more common in the past than they are now. According to the neuroscience of gratitude, sending a note is still a powerful way to express thanks.
Set an intention to write a note to your partner this week. Leave a note under his cell phone or on her car seat. Let your partner know that you are grateful for all they do in your life.
You can expand this practice together and share it out. Are there family members that you want to thank together? After you have expressed gratitude for each other, take some time to thank the people that are important in your lives too.
In my post on the neuroscience of gratitude, I talked about gratitude as an exercise that can build strength and habit, these gratitude tips should help to guide that exercise.
To simplify that analysis I will say this; the more often we practice these (and other) gratitude tips the quicker these neural pathways are able to see the positive.
This reorients our minds away from problem-saturated thinking. We start to see solutions and opportunities instead of problems and threats. Following these gratitude tips is a great start to that new practice.
For the next couple of weeks notice when your thoughts are moving towards negativity. Don’t deny these feelings or try to ignore the negative or to paint everything with an optimistic brush. Instead acknowledge that the situation is unfortunate, difficult, or challenging. Then dig a little deeper to see if there is some opportunity to also feel gratitude.
Say it out loud, especially before you go to bed. Some days this can be especially challenging.
“Today was hard. I am grateful that today is over and that we have tomorrow to try again. I love you.”
That might be the end of your gratitude list that day, and that’s ok for now–you have tomorrow to try again.
Need a little help with your gratitude practice? Our relationship experts may be able to help. Send us a message, tell us what your relationship needs right now.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the Blog Editor. He currently works online seeing couples from Massachusetts at Couples Therapy Inc. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.