If you’ve attended one of my masterclasses (either online, or in-person), you’ve likely been invited to make a note of some things you feel grateful for, as part of the introductory exercises. So, what’s all the fuss about gratitude? What is an attitude of gratitude and how can it impact focus, motivation, and our ability to get things done?
It turns out the benefits of a gratitude practice are not limited to happiness. Gratitude can also positively impact our working lives. Dr R. A. Emmons, one of the world’s leading scientific experts on gratitude, writes in The Little Book of Gratitude, “gratitude is the ultimate performance-enhancing substance.”
What is gratitude?
In the most straightforward sense, gratitude is being thankful. An attitude of gratitude is the habit or practice of regularly expressing thankfulness and appreciation in all aspects of life. It’s about taking the time to reflect by noticing both sides and the hidden order in a situation, even when things feel negative and chaotic.
For example, I might be frustrated by a delegated piece of work not coming back to me as I expected. With reflection I can be grateful for the implicit learning opportunity. I can acknowledge I played a part by not providing a thorough brief or checking my staff member’s understanding. I am grateful because I can learn from this and improve my delegation skills.
I might be inconvenienced by a global pandemic (having 6-months of in-person training and speaking events cancelled in March had its downsides). With reflection and reframing the situation, I am grateful for the opportunity to accelerate the development of iMastery’s Better Ways of Working series of online masterclasses and to support more than 300 participants throughout May and June 2020.
The benefits and science of gratitude
The scientific research is compelling; cultivating an attitude of gratitude delivers many benefits; including:
- Increased happiness and prosocial (kind and helpful) behaviour
- Increased psychological wellbeing
- Improved relationships and increased social support
- Improved physical health including reduced blood pressure and improved sleep.
The benefits of gratitude at work
Grateful, happier, prosocial people make better organisational citizens and contribute more to work. Gratitude has also been shown to:
- Elevate determination, discipline and self-control
- Increase attention, energy and goal achievement
- Enhance creativity, and
- Improve decision making.
These attributes all support focus, motivation and output at work.
What’s more, research also proves that gratitude and life satisfaction mutually predict each other over time.
How can gratitude invite so many positive changes?
A regular gratitude practice rewires our brains, increasing the production of both serotonin and dopamine. In neuroscience research, Hebb’s Law says that “neurons that fire together wire together.”
The more we practice gratitude, the more we strengthen the brain’s neural circuits for gratitude. Further, expressing gratitude as opposed to feeling gratitude has the greatest positive impact on the brain.
Ideas for expressing gratitude
The science is clear. Cultivating and expressing an attitude of gratitude can transform our quality of life, including our productivity and career. The most fundamental way to consistently cultivate an attitude of gratitude is to write. This might be in a dedicated gratitude journal, or a current notebook. I like to flip my everyday notebook backwards and record my gratitude there.
Some like a gratitude jar; write what you feel grateful for on a piece of paper and pop it in a glass jar. It can be motivating to see the gratitude notes grow over time. There is also power in making it more visual and tangible, which works especially well with young children. During homeschooling, your family may find it uplifting to dip back into the jar and be reminded of your blessings.
If you’d prefer something more high-tech, there are plenty of gratitude apps to try.
The ultimate expression of gratitude is handwriting someone a note of thanks or a letter expressing their wonderful qualities and how they’ve made your life better. You can hand-deliver and read the letter, mail or email it, or not send it at all. Research suggests reading letters of gratitude can boost your happiness for as long as a month.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to gratitude; it’s about what feels meaningful for you.
What do I write?
I often begin by writing “Thanks for…”. Oftentimes my list includes something about the weather, a rejuvenating walk and something I’ve learnt. Some weeks I journal similar things repeatedly. When I want to reflect more deeply, these prompts are helpful.
- What’s inspired or touched me recently?
- Who have I been able to help or add value to recently?
- What can I learn from a difficult part of my day/week, and how will this benefit me going forward?
- Who or what can I be thankful about at work?
- What progress do I notice (no matter how small)?
Perhaps writing isn’t for you? Mind-mapping, drawing or taking photos are other forms of regular gratitude practice. Saying thanks verbally is powerful too.
When is the best time to journal?
Mostly I journal my gratitude in the evening before bed (studies indicate this can improve sleep quality and decrease the time it takes to fall asleep).
Sometimes I’ll add to my gratitude journal in the mornings, after meditating. When my daughters were quite young, I’d sit in their dark room waiting for them to go to sleep, writing in my gratitude journal whilst wearing a head torch!
And in the good old days when I was frequently on a plane, I’d use the start of the flight to journal in the back of my notebook.
Anytime you can record your gratefulness is beneficial.” Every bit of gratitude strengthens your brain’s neural circuits for gratitude, making it easier and the benefits greater.
How can I bring a gratitude practice to the workplace?
We are less likely to feel or express gratitude at work than anyplace else. Given gratitude fosters prosocial behaviour and strengthens relationships, it is worth inviting and encouraging your colleagues to participate in regular activities that cultivate thankfulness. Ideas include:
- Start virtual team meetings by encouraging attendees to share something they are grateful for in the chat box.
- Have a regular meeting agenda item where everyone thanks someone else in the team. Virtual meetings actually make this easier; people tend to be more comfortable writing a quick thank you note in a chat.
- When providing affirming feedback, weave in your gratitude as well. For example, “Thank you for asking more questions about this assignment. It has helped me provide a more comprehensive brief. This will save us both time”.
- Encourage your team to explicitly thank customers and other key stakeholders and report the details back at team meetings.
- Create a virtual ‘gratitude wall’, where staff can spontaneously express thanks to other team members.
Forcing people to be grateful doesn’t work. Authenticity and leading by example are important, so make sure you come prepared ready to share too. Repetition is key and cultivating a team culture of gratitude can take time. The more we practice feeling grateful, the easier it becomes.
Thank you for reading and sharing this post. I hope it adds value to you and your team.
Better Ways of Working
Would you like smarter, simpler and better ways of working that help you get things done with more flexibility and control? That may be working from home, in the office or a combination of both.
Learn more about iMastery’s Better Ways of Working series of live online masterclasses.