At the beginning of 2022, I decided to take on a happiness project. There were only two rules: It had to take less than five minutes a day, and it had to be a practical, research-based technique proven to be effective for increasing happiness.

After researching happiness for 15 years, I discovered that there are three elements that make us happy—GAP: Giving, Appreciation and Perspective.

I found that the four months I spent dedicated to appreciation yielded the greatest happiness results. I spent two of those months focusing on showing appreciation towards my husband.

There was only one small problem. For the past seven years, I had already been thanking my husband for something specific each day. I would send him a text, email or voice note with an expression of gratitude. On Shabbat, a handwritten card was usually waiting at his seat at the table. If this happiness project was to be a success, I was going to have to get creative.

I began by printing out 30 pictures of him and our family. On the back of each photo, I wrote one word that described him. I used words like chivalrous, brilliant and spiritual. I also wrote a few sentences, backing the word up with a quick memory.

Each day, I would leave a different photo around the house. Sometimes, it was on the seat of his car or even inside the fridge. The exercise was fun and spontaneous, and I felt that it showed him how capable and important I believed he was.

Someone asked me, “Did he reciprocate?”

He did, but not in a tit-for-tat way. He didn’t respond with a similar exercise, but his overall willingness to please me increased tremendously (and he was already good at it). I saw that when his emotional needs were being met, he, in turn, naturally wanted to do things that would please me, and executed that desire.

The second exercise had an even greater impact on our relationship. I purchased a journal and wrote a short letter to him each day. The letter expounded on some of our best memories and thanked him for things he had done in our past and present. At the end of the month, I presented him with the notebook.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Take a look,” I responded coyly.

I watched him read the journal and saw him beam. Afterwards, he paused and said: “You know … I think this is the best present you could have ever given me.” I was stunned. We have been married for 17 years and have exchanged plenty of gifts in that time. I knew that gratitude could make me happy, but I didn’t realize how happy my gratitude could make someone else.

The essence of a Jew is to give gratitude, and is the most important trait for a person to acquire. Even the Hebrew word for Jew, Yehudi, means to give thanks.

As Jewish people, we are given the opportunity to thank G‑d numerous times throughout our day, from morning until night, starting with Modeh Ani, the prayer we say immediately upon awakening.

Through giving thanks, we create a connection with G‑d. In a similar vein, our relationship to our spouse is also a metaphor for our relationship to G‑d. The more we thank our spouse throughout the day, the deeper our connection becomes.

I believe gratitude is the easiest and fastest way to increase harmony in relationships. In fact, when men around the world were asked what made them happiest, the most common answer was: “I am happiest when my spouse/partner is happy.”

You might be thinking: Well, my partner didn’t get that memo! He doesn’t seem to care about my happiness.

The truth is, the default mode of emotionally healthy men is to want to please their spouses. The problems start when they don’t think their partner is satiable. When men don’t think women are able to be pleased, they give up. Expressing gratitude consistently shows that we are easily pleased. In turn, they start to feel motivated to take action. Additionally, expressing consistent and daily gratitude provides one’s spouse with a “pleasure compass.” This is a pathway that illuminates how to please us. Our expression of gratitude is how our husband knows what we want.

Thanking our spouses often might not feel genuine at first, but we usually have no problem thanking cashiers, postal workers and strangers. Surely, we should aim to extend this kindness to our own partners in life.

Feeling noticed and appreciated is a basic human need. For the past several years, I have been honoring that need for my husband. Today is our anniversary, and since we are now embarking on our 18th year of marriage, below is a selection of 18 categories of gratitude that are impactful. I have gathered these examples from my years of research, students and clients. When expressed regularly, they can transform your relationship.

18 Categories of Gratitude

  1. Health: Thank you for exercising, and taking care of yourself. I appreciate when you make healthy choices. It makes me feel safe and secure that you will be around for a long time.
  2. Chivalry: Thank you for opening the car door for me on our date night. I love when you carry heavy items for me. I feel so special.
  3. Spirituality: Thank you for praying and studying Torah. It means so much to me that you have such depth and spiritual inclinations.
  4. Help With Children: Thank you for bathing the kids and helping them study for their tests. Thanks for making a joke to help our tantruming 5-year old calm down and smile.
  5. Mr. Fix-It: Thank you for taking the car to the shop. I appreciate that you tried to fix the sink. You have such a can-do attitude.
  6. General Help: Thank you for drying the dishes after Shabbat. Thanks for registering the kids for the next school year. You really lifted a burden from me.
  7. Intimacy: Thank you for hugging me when I really needed comfort. Thanks for locking eyes with me.
  8. Communicating: Thank you for listening to my fears and trying to come up with a solution. I love it when you tell me about work-related things; I feel so connected to you and your day.
  9. Kindness: Thank you for pulling a favor for the person who needed help in the community. Thank you for giving charity; you are so generous
  10. Work Tasks: Thank you for waking up early to go to work. I don’t think I’ve ever told you how thankful I am that you commute to and from work each day. It must not be easy, and I appreciate it.
  11. Date Night: Thank you for taking me to dinner last night. I really enjoyed spending time with you at the game.
  12. Things We Take for Granted: I’ve never expressed how thankful I am that you wake up every morning and are productive. Many people in our society are not. I don’t take it for granted.
  13. Finances: Thank you for working so hard and paying the bills.
  14. Physical: I’m so grateful to G‑d that you are so handsome. I love your eyes.
  15. Vulnerability: Thank you for being real with me and sharing your ideas and fears. I’m so grateful I can be exactly who I am in your presence.
  16. Flexibility: Thank you for giving up what you want at times for what I need or desire. Thank you for respecting my boundary and giving me a minute to cool off when I was upset the other day.
  17. Self-Care: Thanks for taking care of yourself. I love when you get a haircut and put on a crisp clean shirt.
  18. Commitment: Have I ever told you how lucky I feel to be married to you? Thank you for choosing me as your life partner and for committing to this marriage.