In an online meditation series, Oprah Winfrey talked about her experience keeping a gratitude journal. Each day she would note several things for which she was grateful in the prior 24 hours.
So, I dabbled with my own diary. And gradually stopped.
Over the next few months I came across several articles espousing the value of gratitude on a person’s well-being.
I again restarted the diary for a short time. Until life got in the way.
I guess the universe was trying to tell me something. It just took three nudges for me to get the message. It was time for me to rethink the role of gratitude in my life.
What is Gratitude?
We all know what gratitude is. At least in a superficial way. It’s a feeling of thankfulness, a willingness to show appreciation.
I’ve learned it’s more than that.
Gratitude is a way of perceiving and interpreting life in a positive way. It starts out as a learned behavior that morphs into an attitude that can lead to more sustainable happiness.
As a freelance trainer and writer, I often procrastinated. I wasn’t motivated to do the things I needed to do. My productivity and self-esteem began to drop. Then I started on my gratitude journey. It changed my thinking. Rather than dreading the “work,” I reframed it as an opportunity. It became easier (though not easy per se) to view the additional work as a gift rather than a burden.
Gratitude and Well-Being
Wikipedia suggests a profound relationship between gratitude and well-being. (For ease of reading I removed the footnotes to the related empirical research content.)
“Grateful people are happier, less depressed, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives and social relationships. Specifically, in terms of depression, gratitude may serve as a buffer by enhancing the coding and retrievability of positive experiences. Grateful people also have higher levels of control of their environments, personal growth, purpose in life, and self-acceptance. Grateful people have more positive ways of coping with the difficulties they experience in life, being more likely to seek support from other people, reinterpret and grow from experiences, and spend more time planning how to deal with the problem. Grateful people also have less negative coping strategies, being less likely to try to avoid the problem, deny there is a problem, blame themselves, or cope through substance use. Grateful people sleep better, and this seems to be because they think less negative and more positive thoughts just before going to sleep.”
While gratitude can have a dramatic impact on your personal life, it can also impact your working life. Of course, it has to be real. Saying thank you is a start, but we need to go beyond mere platitudes. Over time, gratitude can become part of a culture.
Gratitude makes you a better leader.
In a Forbes article—Great Leaders Have An Attitude Of Gratitude — Do You?—Christine Comaford explains that gratitude helps leaders pivot during stressful situations. A habit of incorporating thankfulness into a daily routine readjusts their mental pathways. “When leaders use this Gratitude Practice, they give their brains and their bodies a chance to recalibrate.”
Other research suggests that an attitude of gratitude can improve employee job satisfaction. Boston Consulting Group’s 2014 survey on Decoding Global Talent, cited that “the most important single job element for all people is appreciation for their work.”
Gratitude makes you more productive
According to Marla Tabaka in Increasing Productivity with Gratitude, the release of dopamine from giving and receiving thanks raises energy and motivation. Research found that people who practiced gratitude made more progress toward their goals than people in control groups.
Gratitude reduces conflict
Conflict resolution is one of the most difficult aspects of management and business. Conflict can occur between co-workers, between managers and employees, or between a company and its external partners. It can also occur on a personal relationship level.
Does Gratitude Play a Role in Managing Conflict? According to Linda Roszak Burton, the answer is yes. “Neurologically, we simply cannot be grateful and angry at the same time … those two emotions are mutually exclusive and cannot co-exist in the brain at the same time.” Gratitude is the antidote to fear and anger. By accentuating the positive, gratitude helps mitigate conflict.
Start your gratitude practice
Begin each day with a sense of gratitude. My former yoga teacher said she tried to get up each morning with the affirmation, “Today is a great day to have a great day.” (And on days she wasn’t quite as optimistic she said, “Today is a good day to have a good day.” She realized the limits of forcing positivity, but she always tried.) Establish a positive setpoint right away. Rather than grumbling about getting out of bed, change your internal dialog. It takes zero time from your schedule.
During the day, keep returning to gratitude. Pay attention to things you normally take for granted. That could be a brilliant sunrise, a moment of calm, or someone letting you cut in line. Or it could be increased awareness of what you appreciate in others. Show that appreciation! Express your gratitude.
On a more ongoing basis, plant seeds in your mind. At the beginning you may need to set a timer for 10 seconds (and extend to 20, then 30 seconds as you become comfortable with the process). Close your eyes. Think of something or someone you are grateful for. Offer a silent thank-you. Relax and breathe deeply into a feeling of gratitude. Do this several times per day, or whenever you need to reboot your attitude.
As you fall asleep at night, do so after pushing out negative thoughts with grateful thoughts. Build a default attitude of gratitude.
Does it work?
I must admit I still haven’t mastered the gratitude diary or journal. But I have ingrained more appreciation into my day-to-day life. As I push to establish gratitude as a habit, the impact becomes more and more real. I don’t have to “remember” to do it. I notice things to be grateful for—things I may have previously taken for granted.
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”Oprah Winfrey