An Attitude of Gratitude

Gratitude has been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, create more restful sleep, ease depression, increase self-esteem, improve relationships and reduce aches and pains. Research also shows that developing gratitude is directly correlated to increased resilience.[1]

Sounds good, right?

A grateful attitude can positively impact your work performance:

  • Increase your influence in managing others – see the good in others and be quick to acknowledge it to drive more of the behavior you want in your team.
  • Decrease stress – employees who are see the positive aspects of their work, especially during stressful times, experience less stress as a result.
  • Improve decision making – reduce impatience and the need to satisfy short-term gratification to make decisions that lead to the best results.  
  • Connect with purpose – presence and positivity make it easier to connect values to work, creating an awareness of and respect for a greater purpose.
If gratitude has so many amazing benefits, why are we not all walking, talking gratitude machines?

I recently had the pleasure of participating in a workshop entitled Gratitude: The Healing Power of Giving Thanks.  We talked about the importance of having an attitude of gratitude for not just the big things in life, like health, work, family but also for the smaller things in life, like hot water, a flushing toilet, food to eat... ok so those don't seem so small when you think about not having them. Point is, many of us don't think to name those things when asked for what we feel grateful. There are a few reasons for this. One is that we just get used to things. We start to expect them and therefore are less likely to be moved to gratitude about them. Second, there is often an entitlement belief - that we deserve the good things we have and therefore don't need to be grateful for them. Last, we can't be present to feeling grateful unless we are in fact present in the moment. So, when we are dwelling on something that happened in the past or worrying about what may happen in the future, we are missing opportunities to be grateful.

We must practice gratitude to cultivate it. The good news here is that once we get started, our brains enter a virtuous cycle that works in our favor. The brain has limited power to focus attention on positive and negative stimuli simultaneously. A gratitude practice has you hone in on positive stimulus. Then confirmation bias has us looking for things that prove what we already believe to be true. When we find it, we get a dopamine hit that feels great. This means, once you start seeing things for which to be grateful, your brain starts looking for more things for which to be grateful. That’s how the virtuous cycle begins and your brain gets trained.

"We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. It didn’t stem from anything we necessarily did ourselves in which we might take pride. We can appreciate positive traits in ourselves, but I think true gratitude involves a humble dependence on others: We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives." -- Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., leading scientific expert on gratitude

Here are three suggestions that were shared to begin to build a gratitude practice:

  • Begin each morning grateful for a new day to do a little better than the day before. For some, this may be a morning prayer. For others, it may be a meditation or simple acknowledgement of the day.
  • Write down 3 things each day for which you are grateful. At the end of each week, review what you wrote down. You are training your brain to look for things for which to be grateful. The more you look, the more you'll find!
  • Write a gratitude letter. This is a detailed letter that expresses all the reasons you are grateful to have someone in your life. This can be emailed or sent in the mail but the most powerful execution is to deliver it in person, read it aloud to the recipient and then gift them the physical letter.

The goal is to build a gratitude practice now so that when things are tough, we will have more resilience by finding more gratitude.

[1] The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley in collaboration with Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, in 2011 launched Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude (ESPG), leading the field of gratitude research and education.