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As Thanksgiving approaches, I've been thinking a lot about gratitude and how it impacts me as well as my relationships. Think for a minute about what it feels like when someone says to you, "Your smile made my day!" or "Thank you for checking in on me."

Several studies confirm that:

* Grateful people are happier, healthier, have stronger relationships and are more resilient in adversity.

* Gratitude leads to positive behaviors toward your spouse and others.

* The feeling of gratitude motivates responsiveness to a spouse's needs. The perception of gratitude results in feelings of gratitude in the other spouse, creating a positive cycle over time.

* Gratitude is linked to higher subjective well-being across the lifespan.

* Everyday gratitude has been shown to act as a kind of "booster shot" for romantic relationships, leading to greater connection and satisfaction.

There's something about not being taken for granted and feeling valued that makes people feel better. Gratitude warms your heart and can lift both the giver and the receiver out of despair.

Gratitude impacts how we relate to others and how we feel about our circumstances. What you choose to focus on is where your focus remains. Concentrating on the negative when things are hard can overwhelm you, and it teaches your brain to hone in on the worst. The alternative is to choose gratitude and find things you can appreciate during all the hard stuff going on in your life.

A month or so into the pandemic, in the middle of lockdown, I received an unexpected package in the mail. It was a bubble machine from a friend that included a note saying how much she appreciated our friendship. She encouraged me to put that bubble machine to good use in our neighborhood to lift people's spirits. Trust me when I tell you that bubble machine brought a lot of joy and laughter to people young and old.

Practicing gratitude doesn't have to be complicated, time-consuming or expensive. It's an intentional effort though to acknowledge what we are thankful for and a willingness to receive gratitude from others.

Now that you know practicing gratitude strengthens your relationships, you may be looking for ways to incorporate thankfulness into your life on the regular. If so, you'll be glad to know there are lots of ways you can show people how thankful you are.

PRACTICAL TIPS

Here are five ways to practice gratitude that will strengthen your relationships:

* Tell someone how much you appreciate [fill in the blank]. Thankfulness says, "You matter."

* Write thank-you notes to people you are close to, including your children, spouse, parents and friends who wouldn't necessarily expect anything.

* Write a letter thanking someone who has deeply impacted your life. Tell them you appreciate the ways they have encouraged and supported you.

* Be intentional about expressing appreciation out loud. Sometimes we think about how grateful we are on the inside, but we forget to verbally say it to the person. It can be something as simple as telling your neighbor (instead of just thinking it) how much you enjoy all the flowers blooming in their yard or telling a family member how much you appreciate them checking in on you during COVID-19.

* Keep a gratitude journal focusing on what you are thankful for in different relationships in your life. This is especially great for those times when you are struggling and need a good reminder of all you can be thankful for.

Practicing gratitude isn't always easy, and it may even seem hard to be thankful right now, but our relationships will be much stronger and happier when we express our thankfulness to the people in our lives.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at julieb@firstthings.org.

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Julie Baumgardner

 

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