Gratitude. It’s a simple word, but it’s an important one. It means expressing care and appreciation for something or someone, and in a relationship, showing appreciation is essential.
Who doesn’t appreciate a random loving text or a note left behind that tells you that someone cares?
The strange thing is that we often don’t show enough gratitude, especially to those who are the closest to us. We often take them for granted, and we assume that we don’t need to continue to show appreciation for them to know how grateful we are for what they bring to our lives. But I think that showing gratitude is even more important in our close relationships than in any other arena of life. It helps build trust and intimacy, and it helps us to make sure that our relationships don’t become routine and boring.
In my 76 years on the planet, I’ve built many, many close relationships—professional, personal, romantic, and familial. And I’ve invested a lot of time and energy in making sure that those relationships continue to grow over the years. I’ve found that one of the keys to sustaining these relationships is a conscious effort to show my gratitude: for a job well done, for a nice gesture, or for just being who they are.
Showing gratitude is simple, but it takes conscious effort and practice. We’re all busy and have a tendency towards getting caught up in our own little worlds of appointments and to-do lists. So sometimes we need to give ourselves reminders to show more gratitude to the people in our lives.
One of the best ways to show gratitude is also one of the simplest: Listen, Really Listen. In our busy era of texts, social media, and constant distraction, listening seems to have become a lost art. This seems shocking but it’s true. The good news is that listening can be learned. And by listening I don’t mean just allowing what someone says to register in your brain. I mean really hearing what they are saying. Then taking it in and giving them a thoughtful response. Listening, really listening is a supreme act of gratitude. It comes from a place of genuine caring for the other and shows that you appreciate them.
One of the best ways to express appreciation is to simply say “yes” and often. Over the course of your relationships, you receive thousands upon thousands of requests from others for everything from helping with a project to going to a social event to taking time off work and spending more time with the family. I’ve found that it’s best to err on the side of being open and positive. Of course, we’re all busy independent people, and so it’s impossible to say “yes” to everything! But making “yes” your default response expresses care for your loved ones and makes you more open to new ideas, suggestions, and possibilities.
One of my favorite relationships “tools” is a type of positive reinforcement that I call “Catch Them Being Better”. Rather than criticizing behavior you don’t like, try to “catch” someone in the act of doing something that you like. When my father remembers my birthday and gets me a gift, I go out of my way to thank him. Or if one of my employees does something well at work, I make sure to let them know how much I appreciate their efforts. I’ve found that this gets a much better response than criticizing people for doing things I don’t like. People, by nature, respond better to positive reinforcement. So the next time someone in your life does something you love, try “catching them” in the act of being better.
The simplest and most common thing I do to show gratitude in my relationships is to plan a surprise attack of appreciation. Just like a kid hiding around the corner with a squirt gun waiting for their friend to walk by, I like to overwhelm my loved ones when they least expect it. I might make (or order) a delicious dinner or brunch for a group of friends one weekend. Or wake up one morning and list the many ways that I’m thankful for my wife. Whatever attack you come up with, I’m sure it will be appreciated.
One of the most unexpected ways to show your appreciation for someone is to make the effort to come out of your shell and be transparent, especially about your own mistakes and imperfections. I used to think that admitting that I wasn’t perfect was a sign of weakness, and so I didn’t. I went through life assuming I was flawless while blaming everyone but myself for anything and everything that went wrong. You can only imagine how well that worked. Over time, I’ve changed my tune and developed a practice of advertising, rather than hiding my mistakes. And it works. People trust me more when I’m open about my imperfections. I consider this to be a supreme act of gratitude because it shows that I respect and appreciate others enough to open up to them about my own imperfections. None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes, and if we can admit that to ourselves, and others, we’ll build much stronger and more authentic relationships.