Is there a science of gratitude? A little below 7% of Americans struggle with depression, but in couples therapy, about 40% of the couples have issues with depression with at least one partner. Depression and marital conflict are the two most common presenting problems in mental health today.
Recent research indicates that an attitude of gratitude counterbalances depression by channeling the focus of attention from the negative to the positive. From a neuro-science perspective, we now know that gratitude is part of a larger schema that notices and appreciates the positive. Gratitude has a distinctly different neurological signature than optimism, hope or trust.
Gratitude is highly correlated with well-being (Wood, Froh, & Geraghty, 2010). Gottman has consistently recruited this science of gratitude to craft powerful interventions that we use during couples therapy intensives. These interventions are designed to increase gratitude in committed couples.
Human attention is like a muscle. It can be trained. It can develop an Observing Self. When we focus on noticing a positive change and catch our partner doing something right, a moment of gratitude produces a chemical cascade which acts as a neurological medicine.
How do we process our experience? Gratitude is not merely an attitudinal weighing. It’s a broad orientation toward life itself.
How do we make sense of the good things in our lives? How do we decide to encounter the very notion of gratitude?
If we are stuck in Yes…But:
But if we stop ourselves and try Yes…And:
One of the research challenges on the notion of gratitude is that gratitude has several different meanings, depending on the presenting object relations. However, I think that this study presented a sound, clinical working definition. The researchers described “gratitude” as an appreciation of what is personally meaningful and valuable, and indicative of a reflective mental state of thankfulness and/or appreciation.
Besides Wood, Froh, & Geraghty, (2010), there have been other empirical studies which correlate feelings of gratitude with a sense of overall well being. In terms of the clinical measure of gratitude, numerous assessment measures have been designed.
Gratitude heals the heart, brain, and mind. There are a vast number of exercises and techniques in literally all couples therapy models designed to enhance gratitude, and they are relatively simple and easy to integrate at home. The therapeutic efficacy of many of these techniques remains, and probably will remain, largely unknown.
Gratitude. It’s an appreciation of what is personally meaningful and valuable. Often the exhausted nervous system of couples can be healed with a shift in what is noticed, a reframing of what it means, and an awareness of gratitude.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. using EFT, Gottman Method, and the Developmental Model.