A man accompanied his friend home for dinner and was impressed by the way the friend entered his house, asked his wife how her day went, and told her she looked pretty. After they ate dinner, the husband complimented his wife on the meal and thanked her for it. When the two fellows were alone, the visitor asked, “Why do you treat your wife so well?”
“Because she deserves it, and it makes our marriage happier,” replied the host.
Impressed, the visitor decided to adopt the idea. Arriving home, he embraced his wife and said, “You look wonderful!” For good measure he added, “Sweetheart, I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”
His wife burst into tears. Bewildered, he asked her, “What in the world’s the matter?”
She wept. “What a day! Billy fought at school. The refrigerator quit and spoiled the groceries. And now you’ve come home drunk!”
This old joke underscores a vital point: gratitude in marriage can become so rare that when it appears, we may think there’s something wrong. As marriages move past the honeymoon stage, couples go from appreciating and every little detail about each other to taking each other wholly for granted. The antidote? Without question, it’s gratitude.
Ready to infuse your relationship with more gratitude? The following tips are based on research and have proven effective for countless couples.
Make Gratitude Your Thing
One of the most revealing experiments to ever connect gratitude and happiness was conduced by Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and psychology professor Michael McCullough of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. They took three groups of volunteers and randomly assigned them to focus on one of three things each week: hassles, things for which they were grateful, and ordinary life events.
The first group concentrated on everything that went wrong or irritated them. The second group honed in on situations they felt enhanced their lives. The third group recalled recent everyday events such as, “I went shoe shopping.”
The results: the people who focused on gratitude were happier by far. They saw their lives in favorable terms. They reported fewer negative complaints, and they even reported experiencing better health. They also offered more grace to others and did more loving things for people. Those who were grateful quite simply enjoyed a higher quality of life.
The point is obvious: your life is never more filled with joy than when you are conscious of your blessings. People who feel grateful are more likely to feel loved as well as do loving things.
Writer Henri Nouwen said it this way: “it is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of complaint.”
Once we decide to be more grateful, gratitude appears. So bring more gratitude into your life by choosing to be thankful.
Nothing extinguishes gratitude more quickly than complaining—especially in marriage. Yet it’s so easy to fall into the trap of grumbling. We grouse and moan almost out of habit.
So how can you curb complaints? Will Bowman, a Kansas City minister, has the answer. He challenged his congregation to go 21 days without complaining. He based his challenge on research suggesting it takes at least 21 days to form a new habit. People who took the challenge were issued a little purple wristband as a reminder of their pledge. If they could themselves complaining, they were to take off the bracelet, switch it to the opposite wrist, and start counting the days from scratch.
Whether you’re ready to take the 21-day challenge or not, we suggest trying something that may require a little more courage—if only for a week. Make a pact to help each other stifle grumbles by inviting nonthreatening feedback. For us, that means we agree to form the letter C with our hand and show it to each other whenever we notice the other person complaining. And when we see our partner giving this signal we simply respond with, “Thank you.” That’s it. We don’t condemn or correct.
Try this for seven days and we guarantee you’ll see your complaining diminish while your gratitude rises.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Simply write down three things you’re grateful for once a week—and share them with your spouse. And if you’d like to put a new spin on it, try a shared gratitude journal. It’s easy. You simply pass it back and forth every so often, allowing each of you to read each other’s entries and be inspired by what you’re both writing. No need to set strict timelines on when you do it. Make it casual. And of course bring it up in your conversations when you’re ready. You’re sure to note a measurable increase in your shared happiness when you keep a gratitude journal.
Plan a Gratitude Visit
The single most effect way to turbocharge your joy, says Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, is to make a gratitude visit.
Write a thoughtful testimonial thanking a teacher, pastor, or grandparent—anyone to whom you’re deeply grateful—and then visit that person to read him or her the letter of appreciation. If you do this, you’re sure to feel a surge in joy wash over you and see the same in the person you’re appreciating.
And if you’re willing to take this to a new level as a couple, make a gratitude visit together.
Savor Good Moments
“It’s been presumed that when good things happen, people naturally feel joy for it,” said Fred Bryant, a social psychologist at Loyola University of Chicago. His research, however, suggests that we don’t always respond to these “good things” in ways that maximize their positive effects on our lives.
Bryant is the father of research on savoring, or the concept that being mindfully engaged and aware of your feelings during positive events can increase happiness in the short and long run. What does he recommend for savoring the moment?
- Share your good feelings with others—especially your spouse. “Savoring is the glue that bonds people together,” Bryant said. “People who savor together stay together.
- ”Take a mental picture. Be aware of things you want to remember later, such as the sound of your partner’s laugh or a touching moment between two family members. Seize it in your mind.
- Sharpen your senses. Taking the time to use your senses more consciously flexes your savoring muscles. For example, studies reveal that if people enjoy the aroma of a nice pasta dish before they eat it, they’ll enjoy the taste even more.Absorb the moment. Try to turn off your desire to multitask and instead remain in the here and now.
- Enjoy the passage of time. Good moments pass quickly, so you’ve got to consciously relish them.
And Finally . . .
Gratitude is a power booster to being happy in love. But if you’re struggling a bit to turn the dial up on the gratitude in your marriage, imagine life without your partner. It’s a jolt to the heart, but it may be the jolt that sparks appreciation that’s lain dormant too long.
You don’t need a tragedy to have your heart crack with gratitude. If you’ve taken each other for granted more than you’d like, it’s time to rekindle gratitude for the gift you are to each other. And if your relationship has been bruised upon the rocky shores, it’s all the more important to know that struggles end when gratitude begins.
Excerpted from Making Happy by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott © 2013. Published by Worthy Publishing, a division of Worthy Media, Inc., Brentwood, TN. www.worthypublishing.com. Used by permission. Tell us what you thought of this excerpt on Twitter: #MakingHappy @WorthyPub