A Simple ‘Thank You’ Might Help the Mind and the Relationship

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Two little words can have a big effect on how happy your marriage can be and how healthy your brain can stay, according to recent research on the power of gratitude and the ills that negativity can cause.

Researchers at the University of Georgia surveyed 468 married individuals, measuring how much they felt appreciated and valued by their spouse as well as how often their partner offered a “thank you” or other statement of gratitude acknowledging when they did something nice.

The 2015 study, published in the journal Personal Relationships, found that a spouse’s expression of gratitude was the “most consistent significant predictor” of a happy union and that it buffers their negative communication.

“We measured how much do you feel your partner shows appreciation,” said coauthor Ted Futris, an associate professor of human development and family science.

Such relationship positivity is a brain bonus, according to research from the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas that shows negative thoughts hinder short-term memory.

“A positive outlook keeps the mind uncluttered from those kinds of thoughts that interfere with your ability to function at a high level,” said Dr. Bart Rypma, a principal investigator for the study, which was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

“Negative thoughts tend to stick around in people’s memory for a longer period of time than positive thoughts,” he said, and that negative thinking “interferes with all kinds of other short-term memory operations as we go through our daily lives.”

For that Center for BrainHealth study, 75 undergraduates — about half with depressive symptoms — were asked to remember a string of numbers and sentences. Those with more negativity forgot more.

Futris says that a simple “thank you” can promote relationship positivity and lasting bonds.

“We can’t say expressing more gratitude can reduce the likelihood of divorce, but when you feel valued, you are less inclined to have thoughts of divorce,” he said. 

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