Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
Studies show that people who keep gratitude journals produce 23% less stress hormone, are 41% less at risk of developing depression, and may even be slimmer – those who end the day by counting their blessings intake 25% less dietary fat.[i]
“[Gratitude] builds up a sort of psychological immune system that can cushion us when we fall,” writes gratitude scholar Robert Emmons[ii] (watch him below as he introduces the concept of conscious gratitude at the Greater Good Gratitude Summit in June 2014). “There is scientific evidence that grateful people are more resilient to stress, whether minor everyday hassles or major personal upheavals.”
In light of such compelling evidence, you’d think that sending thank you notes to colleagues would be a daily item on our to-do lists. But research also shows that when it comes to things we’re grateful for, the workplace lags way behind health, personal relationships and social lives. In a US survey, 93% of employees said that grateful bosses are more likely to succeed, and even more revealed that they enjoy feelings of happiness and fulfilment when they take time to thank deserving colleagues. And yet only 10% said they regularly act on the impulse, with 60% saying they never do.[iii]
Actively and consciously tapping into elements of work you’re grateful for might be as much about the entire workplace culture of your organisation as it is your individual wellbeing. “The greatest psychological effect of appreciation and gratitude is the happiness and other emotions immediately felt whether we’re giving or benefiting from,” blog the leaders of O.C. Tanner, a Fortune 2015 100 Best Companies To Work For.[iv] “Gratitude creates good feelings, cheerful memories, better self-esteem, feeling more relaxed and more optimistic. All of these emotions creates a pay it forward and ‘we’re in this together’ mentality in the workplace, which in turn, makes your organisation more successful.”
Sold? So how do you actively and consciously make gratitude part of your working life?
1. USE YOUR FREE TIME WISELY
If your work/life balance needs addressing, don’t just look at what needs to change in your workplace; think too about how you can move the pieces in your personal life so that you’re making the most of your precious spare time. “Satisfaction at work is influenced by factors such as benefits, pay, relationships, and commute length,” writes Happify’s Chief Data Science Officer, Ran Zilca. “But all of this boils down to […] having a life outside of work. If you have a job that grants you [this], you might be happier than you realise.”[v]
2. PUT JOURNALING OPPORTUNITIES AT YOUR FINGERTIPS
Gratitude apps let you count your blessings on the move. So if 15-minutes of quiet reflection and writing time proves elusive of an evening, download the recently rebranded Mojo (on which users have counted more than 7 million blessings since its 2008 launch as ‘Gratitude’) or Happify, and note your thankfulness as you go.
3. BECOME A GRATITUDE ROLE MODEL
Some organisations simply don’t have a culture of expressing thanks to those who deserve it. Take step changes by becoming the manager who acknowledges where gratitude is due and takes the time to discover how your direct reports prefer to be acknowledged. Pay particular attention to your organisation’s unsung heroes, asking who quietly grafts away behind the scenes to ensure things get done.
4. COLLECTIVELY JOURNAL WITH YOUR TEAM
Research shows that writing a gratitude journal can make you happier and healthier, so it stands to reason that such benefits are magnified when teams work together to acknowledge all that they’re grateful for. The administration office of the University of California has built an appreciation platform within its intranet pages, in which employees can publically give thanks for colleagues’ contributions. Other organisations create gratitude walls, where individuals can post sticky notes with messages of thanks for worthy deeds.
5. BRING GRATITUDE TO CONFLICT
If you’re at loggerheads with a colleague or team, pausing to express your thanks might be the last thing on your mind. But research suggests that bringing gratitude to the mediation table can have a transformative effect on disputes. The next time you’re embroiled in a clash, ask if you’ve missed any opportunities to say “thank you”, and how you can express your gratitude for how the other party contributed to bringing about an end to the situation.
6. KEEP IT AUTHENTIC
Common sense dictates that forcing teams to write on gratitude walls isn’t going to have the desired impact on wellbeing. Similarly, willing yourself to document things you’re grateful for when you’re just not feeling it, isn’t going to do you any favours. Note your thanks only when you truly mean it, and paying attention to specifics and quality, rather than going through the motions, rattling off exhaustive lists. When your gratitude tank is approaching empty, refuel by focusing on those aspects of your life that you can steadfastly count on rather than trying to summon up new blessings.
7. BE GRATEFUL FOR YOUR HARDEST LESSONS
Project ‘wash-ups’ or ‘post-mortems’ are common in the workplace, but they too often focus on problems, negativity and losses. To bring gratitude to the table is to reframe problems as lessons, negativity as greater personal understanding and losses as opportunities. To kick-start a healthy, thankful reflection, Professor Emmons proposes individuals or teams ask the following questions.
- What lessons did the experience teach us?
- Can we find ways to be thankful for what happened to us now, even though we were not at the time it happened?
- What ability did the experience draw out of us that surprised us?
- Are there ways we have become a better workplace because of it?
- Has the experience removed an obstacle that previously prevented us from feeling grateful?