Transform your relationships and reframe your thoughts with the power of thanks, says Lois Blyth
There is no greater gift than to be loved and accepted, and to know that we are appreciated for who we are and for the things we do. Our feelings for the people we value most in life become a powerful force that gives us a sense of connectedness. Feeling gratitude and showing appreciation are subtly different. Gratitude is a wholehearted emotion that tends to hit us full-on, instinctively, when something positive happens to us. Appreciation, on the other hand, turns goodwill and positive intentions into a conscious act of thanks and thankfulness. Appreciation is also a sign of respect, so its impact can be swept away very easily if there is any sign of it being expressed begrudgingly or without sincerity. Showing appreciation is an act of acceptance. It takes us outside of ourselves and turns the focus on to others: the people, places, creatures, or events that have made a difference to our lives, through their kindness, support, love, or inspiration. However, sometimes we are so busy being busy that we forget to let people know quite how grateful we are to have them in our lives.
Relationships within families can be complicated, and may change over time. Even when we are fortunate enough to have strong bonds with our siblings, cousins or parents, the chances are that we take our loved ones for granted much of the time. One of the easiest ways of showing gratitude, especially to parents and grandparents, is simply to offer them the gift of your time. That means time with full attention intact, and possibly a strong dose of patience, too – with both ears in action (especially if you are talking by phone).
Ask yourself: Do you have a relative whom you have not seen for some time? Is it time to give him or her a call to show your appreciation? How much of your life do you share with your parents and grandparents? Do you involve them to some extent, or are you living in a parallel universe? How much do you know about their lives? For example, do you know what they studied at school or whether they enjoyed sport? How often do you ask them to tell you about their past? How did they meet? What is their story? When you think back over your life, what have you learned from your parents, and what childhood moments do you feel grateful for? If there were troubled times, are you able to find ways to understand with appreciation and forgiveness in your heart? We are on this little planet for too short a spell not to make the most of the time we have together, even if the going gets tough and we fall out sometimes.
Showing gratitude and appreciation for our closest friends tends to be one of the easiest things in the world. We know how they think, what they like, what makes them laugh – and what they would most appreciate. We tend to be more relaxed and able to be ourselves with our friends than with our family. Even so, it is always possible to take someone we care about a lot for granted, inadvertently.
Ask yourself: When you think of your friendship circle, do some people get the fun assignments while others get the angst? When you get in touch, do you respect their time? Or do you expect them to drop everything and be there for you? The person whom you turn toward to talk through your woes is not always the same person you choose to go partying with, although you probably appreciate them equally. Showing conscious appreciation is an important part of building friendships and becomes increasingly important as we get older.
Professor Sara Algoe has spent many years researching the role of gratitude in relationships. In a study of 47 couples between the ages of 24 and 40 (who had been together for an average of five years), she found a connection between being actively grateful and feeling more positive about each other.
During the study, over the course of 30 consecutive days, some of the couples were asked to spend time together each day chatting about everyday things, while other couples were asked to spend time each day expressing gratitude to each other for the little things that had happened. The couples were also asked to complete a daily questionnaire, to find out how they were feeling about their relationship on a scale from one to nine. For example, in answer to the question “Today our relationship was…,” the couples had to answer from one (“terrible”) to nine (“terrific”). Rather wonderfully, Professor Algoe discovered that in contrast to the couples who were just passing the time of day, the ones who were giving each other positive messages of gratitude found that their relationships had strengthened as a result.
Receiving gratitude had made each person more likely to feel appreciated and therefore more motivated to express gratitude to the other person, too. All too often in a long-term relationship, there is a gradual increase in finding fault and noticing what is lacking, rather than looking actively for what is good about each other. When we find reasons to be grateful and feel positive about each other, and also remind each other that we appreciate each other, we start to appreciate ourselves more, too. Over time, this kind of positivity makes the individuals in a couple feel more confident about being “good at” relationships, and reinforces their feelings for each other.
Although the research is not definitive, the results seem to show that a daily dose of appreciation and positivity binds us together more happily. Of course, both people must be equally committed to expressing gratitude, and it also depends on how we express appreciation. Our tone of voice and the level of sincerity are all important. The memory expert Tony Buzan often remarks that we remember beginnings, endings, and points of difference more clearly than any other element within a conversation. So, no matter what you have discussed with your partner, if you start and end by expressing appreciation and gratitude, that is what he or she is most likely to remember.
Have you ever received a gift or a gesture out of the blue? Do you remember how it made you feel? Unexpected gifts as gestures of kindness and support can be the most memorable, uplifting, and heartwarming of all. A simple posy of flowers, a care parcel in the form of tea and cake, an invitation to lunch, a text, or a phone call: there are numerous ways to reach out spontaneously to show our friends how much we care about them. Receiving a card unexpectedly from someone you haven’t heard from for a long time can really make your day.
Do you know someone who is going through a difficult time, who could do with an act of kindness or some moral support? Do you want to let someone know you are thinking about them? Is there someone in your life who has been generous or supportive without expecting anything in return? Who needs you to share some goodwill with them today?
One way of coming to terms with living through a difficult time is to find a way of getting a new perspective on the experience. Reframing our thoughts is a subtle but powerful way of putting ourselves back into the driving seat of our own lives. If you find yourself thinking, “I am so fed up that X happened”, for example, try swapping it with, “At least I can be glad that Y didn’t happen”. See other examples below.
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