Receiving a heartfelt "thank you" feels good, and might even feel like reason in itself to extend ourselves to others. Thanks to the work of researchers in social psychology and neuroscience, we now have evidence to show that giving to others provides a boost of feel-good brain chemistry, connects us to others and social networks in ways that make life meaningful and promote happiness, and that a consistent pattern of these conscious efforts even enhances physical health. But new research emphasizes the power of gratitude is an equally important connector within interpersonal relationships as well as the larger social groups of which our individual lives are a part. "The personal commitment to invest psychic energy in developing a personal schema, outlook, or worldview of one’s life as a 'gift' or one’s very self as being 'gifted'" write researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, "holds considerable sway from the standpoint of achieving optimal psychological functioning."
Developing a personal outlook of gratitude for what is given is definitely a choice. The research clearly shows that responses to being cast in the role of receipient can be a mixed bag of resentment because of an induced sense of indebtedness or a need to reciprocate in order to restore equality in the relationship. It may be, in fact, that the tension produced by receiving does provoke what positive psychologists call "prosocial" behavior - we do more good when the emotional state of gratitude directs our attention to the need to return the favor.
Jude Treder-Wolff is a trainer/consultant and writer/performer. Follow her on twitter @JuTrWolff.