Better than Flowers: How gratitude cultivates happiness and long-term benefits

Simply saying “thank you” can give your relationship a boost in the short- and long-term

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Photo by Joanna Nix on Unsplash

Those two little words: thank you. Someone goes out of their way to do a little something extra for you, or a big something extra. You might feel grateful. “Oh, that was so thoughtful! You didn’t have to do that.” Or “That was just what I needed – how did you know?” In that moment, you are reminded of why you love your romantic partner and you might feel more connected with them.

Don’t let those moments pass you by – make sure to tell your partner you appreciate their actions.

Recent research reveals that showing your gratitude to your partner can be a gift that keeps on giving. On the one hand, some research shows that regularly taking time to express your gratitude can lead to better mental health and more positive thoughts about your relationship with your partner. On the other hand, recent research suggests that the effects of the “thank you” on your partner may loop back to benefits for you, too: expressing gratitude to a partner makes them feel better about you and the relationship. Telling them you appreciate what they did for you makes them more likely to do it again but also gives them the signal that – simply because you notice – you are worth the investment. More positive feelings about the relationship translates to being happier in everyday life.

It sounds so simple in principle, but in practice, people get busy and forget to say something. They get stressed out and don’t notice their partner’s kind actions in the first place, or even assume the partner already knows. Simply not forgetting to say thanks when you feel grateful may reap dividends.

If you want to take it further, pick something out of the blue that you’ve been meaning to tell them. Look them in the eye and tell them what it was about their actions that stood out to you – what you really appreciated. In one series of studies, romantic couples picked something the partner did for them recently for which they felt grateful and had up to five minutes to thank the partner while sitting together in my lab. Immediately after the conversation, the partner receiving the expression reported how they felt about their grateful partner. Sure enough, that feeling they had when walking away from the conversation – how understanding, validating, and caring the grateful person – forecasted their more positive feelings about the relationship over the next month in one study. And it persisted when we reexamined the pairs six months later in another study.

So how do you get the most impact from the two simple words, “thank you?” Emphasize the “you” in “thank you.” We know this because we video recorded those conversations and learned that people thank their partners for things – big and small – in a wide variety of ways. However, some people went beyond telling the partner what was good about the gift (e.g., “These socks will keep my feet so warm,” or “You made me happy”). Some partners incorporated a focus on what was good about the partner’s actions (e.g., “You went out of your way to find that”, “That was so thoughtful of you”). It sounds like a subtle difference, but just calling out the praiseworthiness of the partner’s actions builds a bridge to them and makes them feel valued.

Flowers and chocolates may be a recipe for romance
on Valentine’s Day, but adding a heartfelt “thank you” is a lasting gift that
benefits your relationship well beyond the 14th.

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