What you focus on may determine the quality of your sex life. I want to talk about this from 3 angles:
1) How gratitude affects your sense of psychological well being,
2) How gratitude affects the wellbeing of your partner and
3) how gratitude affects your brain. Then I can do the easy job of linking all that to your sex life.
It has been clearly established in the field of mental health that what we think affects how we feel. Thoughts are “a dime a dozen”; in other words, we all think many thoughts. These thoughts can come up automatically and can push us and pull us around as if we are tumbleweed. For example, you are driving along a California freeway and suddenly the traffic jams up because of an accident. Your mind immediately comes up with thoughts such as – “ Oh, no, I will be late now” or 2) I hate traffic.” Suddenly, your happy mood has shifted to frustration and anger. However, you can also DECIDE to focus on other thoughts such as – “I now have more time to listen to my favorite radio station. Or “I hope that the accident victims are alright and I am thankful that I am safe.” With the second choice, you feel better. Focusing on what is good in your life or in the moment makes you feel better. It is that simple. If you have the capacity to think thoughts that make you feel better and that are just as accurate (if not more accurate) as thoughts that make you feel terrible, why not focus on those more positive thoughts? In addition, there have been ample studies showing how practicing gratitude can improve sleep, increase determination and make you initiate healthy behavior. All this contributes to better psychological well being.
In Chapter 2 of my book, The Long Hot Marriage, I discuss the important practice of seeing your partner in the best possible light. I write that if you practice perceiving your partner in positive ways, you treat your partner in such a way that he or she will actually behave more positively and give you more of what you want. It is like we are walking, talking self-fulfilling prophecies. In a nutshell, what we focus on in our partners (and ourselves) expands and what we let go of- diminishes. That is why it is so important to become mindful and aware of what we are focusing on moment-by-moment regarding what we think about our partner. If you are focusing on something or multiple things you like about your partner, even your nonverbal behavior will resonate with him or her. Your smile, your soft eyes, your loving tone, will bring out the best in your partner. That is even before you say anything. Expressing gratitude with words will multiply the positive effect of your nonverbal communication. When thinking positively about your partner, it leads to your partner feeling better about him or herself AND you!
National Institute of Health researchers examined blood flow in various brain regions while subjects summoned up feelings of gratitude. They found that subjects who showed more gratitude overall had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus. This is important because the hypothalamus controls a huge array of essential bodily functions, including eating, drinking and sleeping. In other words, the increased activity in the hypothalamus can lead to better choices and an upward spiral of healthy brain activity. Gratitude has also been shown to activate the dopamine generating areas of the brain. Increased dopamine can give a person a sense of vitality and motivation to initiate action.
How does all that contribute to a more vibrant sex life? I am sure some of this is obvious. First, when you have a sense of wellbeing and feel less stressed, you have the energy and motivation to attend to the sensual and sexual aspects of your life and relationship. If feeling grateful and focusing on positive thoughts directly increases your sense of wellbeing, then of course there is a direct relationship between being thankful and having a better sex life.
If you are practicing positive perceptions of your partner, you are affecting the hormonal and chemical state of both of you. These mind/body states lead to more desire, easier arousal and increased orgasmic potential. The warmth generated between you through nonverbal and verbal expressions of gratitude and appreciation can be viewed as foreplay for your sexual relationship.
The effects that practicing gratitude can have on the brain leads to increased desire and expanded potential for pleasure. Higher dopamine activity leads to a more exciting sexual connection. As a matter of fact, researchers say that one of the reasons that couples in courtship have higher sexual desire and activity is due to the presence of higher levels of dopamine. In other words, practicing gratitude can be a great assist in helping you come closer to the neurochemical environments that each of you had when courting. Like I mentioned, increased dopamine often leads to increased motivation to initiate action and that includes in the bedroom.
People use the Thanksgiving holiday as a reminder to appreciate all they have including the people in their life. Now you can see that in addition to all the benefits of practicing gratitude, you can put “a better sex life.” on that list.