Empowering People through Behavioral Science
Practical Tools for Purpose Purpose & Well-Being Purpose Across the Lifespan

A Little Bit of Gratitude Goes a Long Way Promoting Your Love Life

By Haotian Zhou


Sometimes, your parents can actually be right. We’ve all heard our parents touting the virtue of the seemingly quaint idea that happiness is in the little things and we have probably all rolled our eyes at the sound of it. But in the case of love life, there is indeed some wisdom in this hackneyed parental advice. Dr. Sara Algoe, the world leading expert on social relationships, has been developing a new theory on how expression of gratitude can help bind people together in the past couple of years, which is aptly named “Find, remind and Bind”. She recently decided to take her fledgling theory for a spin in the realm of romantic love given that troubled love life turns out to be the one of the primary reasons that people go to seek the counsel of psychotherapists.

In a recent project, Dr. Algoe and her colleague recruited 47 romantic couples to participate in a 30-day longitudinal study. These couples, between the ages of 24 and 40, had shared an ongoing relationship with each other for approximately five years at the time of the study.  All the couples were required to conduct conversation at home on an assigned topic four to six times over the span of the study. Half of the couples were assigned to discuss the mundane details of the previous day while the remaining couples were assigned to express gratitude toward each other. Regardless of the topics, all the couples had to film their conversations. At the end of the each conversation, all participants judged how responsive they felt their partner was during the chat. Moreover, every night, the participants assess the quality of their relationship on that day using a 9-point scale, with 1 being "terrible" and 9 being "terrific."

Image ©: Pedro Ribeiro Simoes 2007

At the end of 30-day period, all the couples arrived at the research facility of the university Dr. Algoe is affiliated with for a face-to-face interview. In analyzing all the data recorded, Algoe found that overall couples whose conversation centered around gratitude felt their relationships became stronger, more resilient to change, and more positive throughout the 30 days than those whose conversation was on mundane events.

However, before you rush to arbitrarily inject gratitude expressions into your nighttime chat with your significant other, you need realize that not all couples in the gratitude group experienced improved relational well-being. Algoe and her colleagues noticed that saying thank you did nothing to make the love life flourish for participants whose partners were not particularly responsive. In other words, for gratitude to work its magic in promoting the upward spirals of mutual love, people need to able to see their expressions of gratitude actually have an impact on their partners’ feelings—this is what responsiveness means essentially.


Haotian Zhou is a Research Professional (post-doctoral fellow) in the NPP Network, based at the Center for Decision Research at Chicago Booth.

Associated Project Theme: Practical Tools for Purpose Purpose & Well-Being Purpose Across the Lifespan

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