Sitting around the crowded dinner table at Thanksgiving, my family has a tradition of sharing things from the last year for which we are thankful. My mind recalled a cold afternoon, up to my knees in dust and tiles, shoveling through the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. “Thank you for helping to clean up my town!” one woman said to me, emotion filling her voice. Despite the chill temperatures, her heart was warm. I was so moved by the glimmer of hope that people clung to as they surveyed their shattered lives. It was easy for me to be grateful.
Turns out, gratitude plays an important role, not only in rebuilding broken walls, but also in expanding our hearts and improving life satisfaction. A report from the Harvard Medical Association found that gratitude helps us refocus on what we have instead of what we lack. Those who count their blessings have less likelihood for depression, anxiety, or envy, while possessing stronger social connections, greater relationship satisfaction, and a real leg up in the workplace.
While fostering positive thought patterns conjures up images of Bob Wiley in What About Bob–“I feel fine, I feel fine, I feel really fine”–the decision to choose gratitude goes much deeper and is a reflection of character. Gratitude is derived from the Latin word, gratia, meaning grace or graciousness. A gracious heart is one that gives life to others and is rooted in a gracious mind.
By training ourselves to identify points of gratitude, we focus less on the past or future, and more on embracing the present moment. Rather than bonding over shared gripes and annoyances, recognizing the positive helps us turn towards one another in our relationships and fosters stronger connections. While it may seem fake at first, exercising the gratitude muscle can pay lasting dividends.
For instance, although graciousness is lacking in many workplace settings, recent studies by Bersin and Associates found that employers who offer their employees recognition and gratitude are 12 times more likely to generate strong business results than their peers. Jay Love at Inc. Magazine suggests that supervisors try to catch a team member doing something right and then point them out in front of everyone to boost team performance. It seems that sincere positive affirmation can turn a cold cubicle into a place brimming with productivity and innovation.
The benefits of expressing gratitude are not limited to the workplace. In fact, what if there is a “secret formula” for transforming your love life from stagnant to sensational? World-renowned psychologist Dr. John Gottman studied thousands of couples and found that those who practiced a 5:1 ratio of positive compliments and behaviors to negative ones reported the highest satisfaction. Couples who regularly take time to consider those qualities that they appreciate about their significant other put stock in what Gottman calls the “emotional savings account,” that helps them be more resilient during times of stress.
Conflict will happen in any relationship, but major research on emotional psychology discovered that it can be easier to offer criticism when both parties rest secure in their affection and goodwill towards one another. By contrast, Gottman found that couples headed towards divorce or in a strained relationship exhibit a ratio of just under 1:1.
So get out that pen and paper and start making a list of all those qualities you just love about your significant other! Sprinkle compliments throughout your conversations, in small notes, or in a special text in the morning. And remember, women need love, men need respect.
Overall, fostering an attitude of gratitude helps expand our hearts to love. Whether facing major tragedies or coasting through life successfully, we could all use a little more graciousness. Let’s take Thanksgiving with us, long after the leftover turkey has been put away.
This post originally appeared on the VerilyMag blog.