Want To Transform Your Relationships? Try Saying "Thank You"

Photographed by Franey Miller.
Chanting, "thank you, next" when you're singing along with Ariana Grande is a blast. But actually uttering a sincere "thank you" to someone you're grateful for on the daily often takes more effort and humility. Though it may seem like an insignificant gesture, practicing gratitude in your daily life can benefit your health and relationships in a big way.
Research has long shown that gratitude is good for you, psychologically, physically, and relationally. "A number of studies show that gratitude goes along with feeling good about how your life is going, and with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and envy than others sometimes have," explains Stephen Yoshimura, PhD, professor of communication studies at the University of Montana, who has studied gratitude. Research suggests that gratitude also improves people's sleep quality, and makes them perceive fewer health problems about themselves. "Above all, however, gratitude can improve the quality of our relationships with other people," he adds.
What makes gratitude the special sauce of relationships? " Feeling grateful toward others can motivate us to spend more time connecting to people who are important to us," Dr. Yoshimura says. "And expressing our gratitude to them typically increases their positive feelings about us and motivates them to connect with us in return." Connection is important because it makes us feel like we belong and matter to others, he adds. When you feel like you have social support, or someone to go to when you're in need, it can decrease the amount of stress you feel. These benefits go both ways: when you have strong relationships, you feel grateful; and expressing gratitude makes your relationships better, too.

Communicating gratitude involves some special elements in the message that go beyond just the words themselves.

Stephen Yoshimura, PhD, professor of communication studies at the University of Montana
Actually putting gratitude into practice is different than just being polite at the supermarket or saying "TYSM" in a text message, Dr. Yoshimura explains. In order to reap the benefits of gratitude, you have to share some deeper feelings about a person or what they've done for you. "Communicating gratitude involves some special elements in the message that go beyond just the words themselves," he says. While keeping a personal gratitude journal can be a powerful practice, we know that face-to-face expressions of gratitude tend to be best, he says. "The ways with which we express gratitude can sometimes carry even more meaning than what we say, so it helps to express gratitude with a full spectrum of verbal and nonverbal messages," he says.
Expressing your feels requires vulnerability that might feel awkward or uncomfortable to muster — but it's worth it. When you take the time to write to someone explaining how much they mean to you, for example, it "helps communicate a deeper subtext about you and your feelings about the person," Dr. Yoshimura says. Or, simply taking time to talk to your partner at the end of the day, and let them know that you appreciate the small tasks they handled, will make the both of you feel like better and worthy partners.
The sweet thing about gratitude is that it can help any type of relationship in your life, from the person you're hooking up with to your parents. So, consider dropping some "thank you's" into your next conversation with a loved one. And hey, if Grande's lyrics are any indication, it can even work on exes.

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