How grateful do you feel each day?
To what degree do you express your gratitude and appreciation to others around the office?
If the answer is “not a lot,” you’re not alone.
The Blessings of Gratitude
We’ve previously discussed negativity bias—the brain’s predisposition to favor negative experiences, thoughts, and emotions over positive ones (we’re wired to survive, so anything that can potentially harm us commands more attention than things that don’t pose a threat).
One of the biggest challenges with negativity is that it constantly pulls our attention out of the present moment. When this occurs, we lose focus. Our energy gets directed in unproductive ways. And we lose sight of the bigger picture.
Gratitude is an antidote to negativity. It can increase our sense of well-being. It can charge us with energy and heighten our level of optimism. Gratitude can also bring us closer together.
Gratitude in the Workplace
Gratitude can be contagious just like smiling.
A genuine “thank you” is an inner acknowledgment to another human being that they matter. It’s a small act with a big ripple effect that confirms a basic truth: we all depend on each other; we’re all interconnected.
When you give thanks to someone in the office, you open the door to receiving their thanks in turn. Small acts of gratitude—taking brief moments to express genuine appreciation to another human being—can set a new tone in your organization. Each small act moves you closer to fostering a more human and collaborative culture.
The challenge is that you can’t express genuine gratitude and appreciation to another if you don’t feel grateful within yourself.
When we’re experiencing negative emotional states, it’s virtually impossible to feel grateful or appreciative.
The good news is that being grateful is a skill. And all skills can be cultivated and developed through practice.
The Habit of Complaining
Thomas Merton observed, “Those who are not grateful soon begin to complain of everything.”1
Complaining—both to others and to ourselves—is a common habit. This habit goes hand in hand with an ungrateful spirit.
Becoming mindful of this habit and catching your mind in the act of complaining can help break the cycle.
But to get all of the benefits that gratitude has to offer, we need to cultivate it.
How to Cultivate Gratitude
When we’re complaining or feeling ungrateful, our minds are subconsciously asking a question like:
What’s not right about this?
What’s not good about this?
Why aren’t things the way I want them?
What we focus on determines what we think.2 When we ask the brain to access information about what’s not right or what could be better about a particular situation, it will surely provide a plethora of answers.
Cultivating gratitude is a practice of shifting your focus from “what’s not right” to “what is right?” The question may change to:
What am I taking for granted right now?
What can I be fortunate about right now?
What could I feel grateful for right now?
To these questions, too, the mind can formulate many answers. But, because of the negativity bias, it takes more effort to shift your mindset to the positive.
A Scientifically-Proven Method for Improving Wellbeing
Positive psychology offers a five-minute exercise to train your mind to scan the world, not for the negative, but for the positive.
This simple exercise can help individuals cultivate gratitude and increase their level of happiness in less than a month.3
TRY IT: Take out a journal and a pen. Think back over the past 24 hours before bed and write down three to five things you can be grateful for. Do this for 21 days and notice if you feel a change in your well-being.
Invite your leadership team to try it too. Evaluate the results for yourself, and collectively, after 21 days.
Many leaders have overachieving personalities. They hold a subconscious fear that if they feel or express gratitude it will undermine their constant drive for improvement in themselves and others. The reality, however, is that feelings of gratitude and appreciation don’t compromise progress; they fuel it.
What if everyone in your organization was able to cultivate a little more gratitude each day?
Might your work environment be very different? With greater appreciation and connection, might your corporate culture be on an entirely different trajectory?
- Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 1958. ↩
- Gene Anderson, “Humor and Health,” TEDx, 2016. ↩
- Rober A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough, “Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003. ↩