Gratitude is a powerful emotion. It can improve our physical and mental health, and even help us live longer. And, along with improving our own well-being, it can also spread to those we love. Studies have found that gratitude not only helps individual’s mental-health outcomes, it improves their partner’s state of mind as well.
In this brief interview segment, Megan McDonough, CEO of Wholebeing Institute, and Dr. Sara Algoe, Director of the Emotions and Social Interactions in Relationships Lab at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, discuss the positive impact of experiencing and expressing gratitude within relationships.
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MM: So, in your theory, we talked about the fact that gratitude can help us find, remind, and bind us together in a relationship. We haven’t necessarily touched upon what does that mean for our own well-being—our own health. Can you speak to that?
SA: Yeah, well, this is actually one of the reasons that I’ve been continuing to work on gratitude and really trying to unpack what’s going on with the expressions of gratitude, because on a big-picture level we know that relationships are central to survival really, so having good relationships is highly correlated with having good mental health, physical health, and even longevity. For example, there’s really cool findings, actually spanning the last several decades, showing that people who are embedded in more high-quality relationships actually live longer, and that effect is the same size as smoking 15 cigarettes a day has on your mortality, so they’re opposite directions, and so there’s something really important about making sure that we shore up our close relationships. What’s interesting about that effect is not just the quality of one particular relationship, like a romantic relationship, but actually just having at least a few people who you can count on in your everyday life, and so those findings about relationships more broadly really are driving a lot of my interest and the interest of lots of researchers in this domain, trying to unpack then what are the implications of knowing that if gratitude really does improve relationships then how far can take that? Does gratitude have mental-health outcomes? We do know from some evidence that people who experience and express more gratitude have better mental-health outcomes, but also their partners have better mental-health outcomes. There are a few findings starting to get into the physical health domain, so a couple people have looked at blood pressure and inflammation, and so people are starting to move in that direction. I think there is a lot of promise now that we’re starting to really untangle what it is about gratitude that can help—how gratitude can help relationships and exactly why and the specific kind of behaviors that we can do to help improve relationships. We might actually be on a good path for getting this fast-tracked to promoting all kinds of other really wonderful outcomes for people.