Tag Archives: gratitude

Are you or your spouse being taken for granted? Check out these obstacles and keys to gratitude.

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Do you feel taken for granted, at least some of the time? Who appreciates that you get up early to make lunches or do laundry? Who appreciates how hard you work to provide for the family? Who appreciates the dinners, help with homework, paying the bills, doing the chores and the countless things you do each day? Or the fact that you haven’t given up and run off to find an easier life?

Maybe no one.

That’s because we mostly take for granted the good stuff we have. I don’t wake up and give thanks for the fact that my husband didn’t have an affair, or that my kids didn’t throw up in the night, or that my house didn’t burn down. I don’t give thanks that my children’s are not starving or suffering from a debilitating illness. By default, we seem to focus on the negative instead of the positive, to dwell on our problems and concerns. Sure, we often give thanks for our food and our health in a generic sense, but that’s different from noticing how richly we are blessed in all the ways we take for granted.

It stands out when you say thank you to your spouse for the usual things they do, because we are so used to not being thanked.

Most religions have gratitude at their core. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says “In everything, give thanks…” We all seem to know the power of giving thanks, and research has demonstrated gratitude is a key element of happiness. Yet, we still grumble more often than not. Why?

“Given its magnetic appeal, it is a wonder that gratitude might be rejected. Yet it is. If we fail to use it, by default we choose ingratitude,” says Psychology Professor Robert Emmons, PhD, in an essay which appeared in Big Questions Online and Greater Good Science Center. He explains that our provision becomes so commonplace that it is easily accepted. “We believe the universe owes us a living.”

At this morning’s church service, I heard again the story of the 10 lepers whom Jesus healed, and only one returned to him to give thanks. Think about the people you know, and you may agree that about 90 percent of of people complain more often than they express gratitude. I’m often guilty of focusing on a problem or crisis, then when it is solved or passes, I rarely think of it again. We are on to the next thing, with little more than a “thanks” or “whew, I’m glad that’s over.”

If you’re with me so far, hang in there for the “ouch” factor and the happy conclusion.

What’s the obstacle to gratitude?

Research shows ungrateful people have a high sense of self-importance, arrogance, vanity, and an unquenchable need for admiration and approval, explains Emmons. This is about a sense of entitlement that says, “Life owes me this,” and “I deserve this.” Being preoccupied with ourselves makes us feel we are owed what we have, or that we have earned it, and it makes us forget the giver of these gifts.

While only one percent of the population meets the criteria for narcissistic disorder, these self-serving characteristics are found in all individuals to varying degrees. It starts in childhood as all children believe the world revolves around them, and we hopefully evolve to understand the importance of other perspectives and needs.

A focus on the self is an obstacle toward being thankful.

Humility Paves the Way

“Humility is a key to gratitude because living humbly is the truest approach to life. Humble people are grounded in the truth that they need others,” says Emmons. “The humble person says that life is a gift to be grateful for, not a right to be claimed.”

The thing is, humility seems to go against everything we are taught will make us successful in life, to take charge, to take credit, to demand the best the world has to offer. The Paradox of Giving, in which the more we give, the more we receive, is just like the Paradox of Gratitude, in which the more you give thanks, the more blessed you will feel. (OK, I made that up, but that’s what I think.)

“Humility is profoundly countercultural. It does not come easily or naturally,” says Emmons, yet “reigning in entitlement and embracing gratitude and humility is spiritually and psychologically liberating. Gratitude is the recognition that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift.”

The truth is I didn’t do anything to deserve my life, my husband, my kids, my job, my parents, my friends—any more than a person suffering in the Philippines deserved to experience a typhoon.

As we approach Thanksgiving in the U.S., let’s shift our focus away from ourselves and toward humility and gratitude for others and toward our Creator. Tell your spouse and all those who are special to you all the ways in which you appreciate them.

Don’t fall back to the default setting of ingratitude. When you think of complaining, try to find five people or things to be thankful for. Please share in the comments three things you are grateful for today!

For the full essay as well as a short video from Robert Emmons, PhD, explaining the following four benefits of gratitude, check out this page.
1. Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present.
2. Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression–because they are incompatible with gratitude.
3. Grateful people are more stress-resilient.
4. Gratitude strengthens social ties and self-worth.

Related articles:
4 Proven Secrets to Long Marriage Part III: Express Gratitude
Express Thankfulness to Your Spouse Today
Can Your Mind Change Your World?
Focusing on What’s Missing in Life Can Cause You to Miss What’s There

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com.

The Power of Vulnerability in Finding Lasting Love

Do you have a sense of love and belonging?

Brené Brown’s TEDx Talk on The Power of Vulnerability explains the difference between people who have a sense of love and belonging and those who don’t:  Those who have it believe that they are worthy of it. It’s that simple. One thing that keeps us out of connection with loved ones is our fear that we aren’t worthy of that connection.

Brown conducted a great deal of research about people who live “wholeheartedly” and studied what they have in common. She found they have:

  1. The courage to be imperfect.
  2. The compassion to be kind to themselves and to others.
  3. Connection as a result of authenticity—in other words, they were true to themselves.
  4. They fully embraced vulnerability, and they believed that which made them vulnerable also made them beautiful.

Of course, many of us know what a challenge it is to be vulnerable. There are no guarantees that when we put ourselves “out there”, we will be loved in return. Brown herself struggled tremendously in her effort to be vulnerable, preferring to be in control at all times.

She also suggests we often numb ourselves from life—with credit cards, medication, drugs or alcohol.  But then we numb the good AND bad parts of our lives. “We numb joy, gratitude and happiness. We try to perfect ourselves, our lives and our children,” she says. “Instead, we need to affirm ourselves and others as imperfect but worthy of love and belonging.”

To be vulnerable, we have to love with our whole hearts, knowing there is no guarantee, but believing that we are enough, Brown says. “Practice gratitude, and lean into joy.”

I agree with Brown that showing our deepest, truest selves can be difficult, even downright scary at times. We wonder if we open ourselves up with such honesty and vulnerability if we will be seen as worthy of love. It’s a leap of faith that, according to Brown’s research, is essential to make. Check out Brown’s full talk. It’s entertaining and well worth your time.

Do you believe you are worthy of love and belonging? Do you communicate that kind of loving message to your spouse, especially when he or she opens up to you? Do you struggle with vulnerability, or do you embrace the concept?

Links to Enjoy:

10 Truths about Happy Marriages—Read these helpful tips!

50 Ways to Show Your Husband You Love Him by Busy Bliss blog—You don’t have to do all of them, but pick one or two today as a way to communicate your love.

Lori Lowe is a marriage blogger at MarriageGems.com. Her book First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage is now available on Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.  Lori and her husband of 16 years live in Indianapolis with their two children.

Photo by graur razvan ionut courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

6 Habits for Happy Lives & Marriages

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

I came across this awesome visual from the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) on 6 Habits of Happiness Worth Cultivating, and I think it has great applications for marriage as well. Cultivate these 6 habits for a happier life and a happier marriage.

  1. Practice Kindness. Yes, it’s an important life habit, but it also makes you feel good. “Altrustic acts light up the same pleasure centers in the brain as food and sex,” according to GGSC. Many people stop there, but they end up being kinder to the checker at the grocery store than to their spouse at home. Or at least we would never say things to our friends that we are willing to say in anger to our spouse. Ouch. Kindness will pay great dividends in the long run. Say “please” and “thank you” for starters. Offer to help, especially when your spouse is stressed. Give an extra hug and kiss, just because.
  2. Drop Grudges. As I wrote in First Kiss to Lasting Bliss, forgiveness is just as much a gift for the giver as the receiver. Offering forgiveness to those who have wronged us takes away the bitterness that can rob us of health and wellbeing. This goes double in a marriage, when grudges are very detrimental. If a past hurt from our spouse is important, discuss how you feel hurt and explain what would make you feel better. But figure out how to get past it.
  3. Get Moving. GGSC reports that “regular exercise increases self-esteem, reduces anxiety and stress, and may well be the most effective instant happiness booster of all.” Why not do something active with your spouse? You’ll both benefit from the increased oxytocin release, you’ll both be doing something good for your health, and you’ll be spending quality time together.
  4. Give Thanks. Lots of research has shown the benefits of living with gratitude, and I’ve written a good deal about it. “Regular expressions of gratitude promote optimism, better health, and greater satisfaction with life,” says GGSC. Research also shows that couples who express gratitude toward one another and who spending time being thankful for their spouse and thinking positively about him or her are also more satisfied with their relationship. Read “Two words that have improved my marriage.”
  5. Keep Friends Close. “Make time for those closest to you,” says GGSC. That means regular, dedicated, uninterrupted face time with your spouse. No excuses. Remember that your spouse can’t meet all your emotional needs, so spend time with close friends as a way to boost your happiness and bring a brighter you to your marriage.
  6. Pay Attention. The idea of being more mindful as a means of boosting immunity and reducing anxiety is not one commonly discussed. But in our world of multitasking and ubiquitous social media, it’s so key. How many minutes a day to we spend completely engaged with our spouse, listening or discussing meaningful issues in our lives?

What are the most important habits you feel cultivates your personal happiness and your relationship happiness?

Order in time for Valentine’s Day: First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage , which tells the stories of a dozen amazing couples who used adversity to improve their marriage. Go here for links to Amazon print version or e-books for Kindle, iTunes, Sony, Nook or PDF. If you already have the book, don’t forget to email me for your 7 free marriage improvement gifts, including everything from an e-book to improve your sex life to date night suggestions, an iPhone app with daily marriage tips, a marriage refresher workbook, a video to hone your communication skills, and tips for how to connect on a daily basis with your spouse in just 15 minutes a day.

Two Words That Have Improved My Marriage

Early in my marriage, my husband and I were not as focused on gratitude as we are today. Back then I did not thank him for mowing the lawn, and he did not thank me for cleaning the house. As a result, deep down, I think we both felt less appreciated than we should have. It’s not that we didn’t appreciate each other, but we had the mindset of “that’s just her job” or “that’s just his job.”

Now that we understand the impact that gratitude can have on a marriage, we make every effort to say “thank you” many times a day. It’s more second nature than an extraordinary effort, but when I make dinner, he always says, “Thank you for dinner,” (and encourages the kids to do the same). And when he’s been out collecting leaves for the tenth time this fall, I always compliment him on how nice the yard looks and how hard he worked. We say thanks for everyday things, like going to the grocery store, emptying the dishwasher, doing the laundry, or taking the kids to tennis lessons. He thanks me for holding down the fort while he’s traveling, and I thank him for helping me with a computer problem.

Expressing gratitude doesn’t just make the recipient feel good, it makes the giver more aware of all the actions and efforts that the spouse is doing. It makes you both feel better about your relationship, and it adds more positivity to your interactions.  (Remember, Dr. John Gottman says it takes five positive for every one negative interaction to keep marriage strong. Read about the 5:1 ratio.)

Don’t wait for your spouse to start thanking you for all the great stuff you do. Just start thanking your spouse for all the little things that often go unnoticed, and the important stuff, too: for being a good provider, for taking good care of the kids, for getting the car oil changed, for making sure you have clean underwear in your drawer, for making you feel loved, for keeping the house organized…Surely you can think of a few things to thank your spouse for today.

A special “thanks” and “happy birthday!” to my dear hubby who has been especially helpful to me recently as I’ve been more busy than usual with my book coming out.  It’s hard to believe we’ve now been together for half of our lives. (Well, almost for me.) Read about the power of gratitude in reducing rates of breakups.

With Thanksgiving coming up this week in America, you might even consider writing a thank-you toast to publicly honor your spouse and/or other family members for how they have encouraged you or made your life brighter. I know we have many readers outside the U.S. who don’t celebrate Thanksgiving; don’t wait for a holiday to express your thankfulness.

Send a text or e-mail, leave a note, or just tell your sweetheart “thank you.” Share one thing in the comments that you are thankful for today from your spouse.

Photo by Felixco, Inc. courtesy of freeditigalphotos.net

Help Your Spouse Achieve Lifelong Dreams

I have a few close friends and family members who are all about their “bucket lists,” the lists of things they want to experience or accomplish during their lives. For instance, my brother’s list inspired him to climb Mount Rainier and to go deep-sea diving in remote locations.  This week, I was reading the uplifting blog The Generous Wife. She suggested as couples we talk regularly about our bucket lists and look for ways to help our spouses achieve their wishes. It’s a fantastic suggestion.

I like this idea for multiple reasons. First, discussing your dreams with your spouse increases intimacy and keeps you focused on positive aspects of your life. Second, participating in activities outside of your norm builds excitement and passion for yourself and for your marriage. And third, helping your spouse achieve his or her dreams often causes your spouse to have increased gratitude toward you. And gratitude has been shown to increase connection and bonds.

I must admit I’m not much of a true adventurer. I’d much rather sit on a beach than climb a treacherous mountain. However, I have spectacular memories of traveling to Hawaii, Bermuda, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, Monaco, Mexico—and yes, even a memorable trip to Canada during one of their worst snowstorms—with my husband. All that travel came to a screeching halt when our two children were welcomed into our lives. I have more destinations in mind when our kids are a bit older. But travel isn’t required; many adventures can be found without leaving your hometown.

I have a great friend who encouraged her husband to fulfill his dream of running a hot-air balloon business, while maintaining his full-time job as a pilot. I’ve never heard her complain of the time it takes away from their large family. I have other friends who have supported their spouse’s dreams to become an entrepreneur or a full-time parent. Two married friends have decided to visit every national park in the country. Perhaps you have always wanted to take music or dance lessons, fly an airplane, learn a new language or write a book. Share your goals with your spouse, and discuss how your dreams could become a reality.

Believing in one another and in a positive vision for your union is part of the magic of marriage. How many divorces could be prevented if spouses felt their partner cared as much about their dreams and goals as they do?

What fun things are on your bucket list? What obstacles stand in your way—time, money, self-doubt, an aging body? Do you know what’s on your partner’s list?

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please spend one minute to take this survey  answering five quick questions. Your confidential responses will help me immensely. Thanks!

4 Proven Secrets to Long Marriage Part IV: Cultivate Healthy Passion

Wrapping up our 4 secrets to long marriage is maintaining a healthy passion. What’s an unhealthy passion, you ask? Funnily enough, psychologist Robert Vallerand of the University of Quebec says, “Obsessive passion—a type that seems to control you—is as detrimental to the relationship, making it less satisfying sexually and otherwise, as having no passion.”

A healthy passion, on the other hand, means “a voluntary inclination toward an activity or person that we love or value.” It helps us relate better and increases our intimacy while retaining our own identity.

You can cultivate healthy passion by participating in an activity you and your partner both enjoy, says Vallerand. While exhilarating activities are ideal, competitive ones are not. (The object is not winning, it’s bonding.) Go sledding. Share a boat ride. Take a run. Have sex. You get the idea.

Another way to boost passion: write the reasons why you love your spouse and why the relationship is important to you. Bonus points if you read it aloud to him or her.

To summarize the 4 Secrets to a Long Marriage as shared in Scientific American’s article “The Happy Couple”: Share Joy, Stay Positive, Express Gratitude, and Cultivate a Healthy Passion.

So what’s your big secret to a successful marriage? Did any of the four resonate with you as strengths or weaknesses in your relationship?

4 Proven Secrets to Long Marriage Part III: Express Gratitude

The 10 most frequent positive emotions include: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love, according to psychologist and author Barbara L. Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. In her book, Positivity, she says the most important of these emotions to a relationship may be gratitude.

Why? Because expressing gratitude regularly helps us appreciate our partner and not take one another for granted. For example, when you tell your spouse you appreciate the great dinner, it makes you aware that s/he put effort into preparing that dinner for you, and more appreciate of having them in your life. And it makes your partner feel appreciated. So, expressing gratitude benefits both partners in the relationshipthe recipient and the giver.

One researcher found on days when couples felt more gratitude toward their partner, they felt more connected to him or her and more satisfied even the following day. Recipients of gratitude also increased their relationship satisfaction on days when it was expressed. Researchers refer to gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships.

“Each unit of improvement in expressed appreciation decreased by half the odds of the couple breaking up in six months,” according to Scientific American’s December 2009 article, “The Happy Couple: Secrets to a Long Marriage.”

What makes you feel the most gratitude from your spouse? When are you most likely to express it?

Read Part I, Part II and Part IV.